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Chief thief Josh Hodgson says Canberra Raiders’ stripping not pre-planned

Josh Hodgson said the Raiders’ success at stripping the ball from opponents is, for the most part, a spur of the moment idea. 

The opportunistic Englishman leads the Telstra Premiership with 11 successful attempts at stripping the ball.

Canberra’s team tally of 23 is more than double any other side. Melbourne – who the Raiders will face on Saturday night at AAMI Park – are next best on 11.

Hodgson said as long as the wording of the rule stands as it does, he and the rest of the Raiders will look to use it to their advantage.

“We don’t go into a tackle and think we’re going to strip, there’s certain points in the game on the weekend when we were down by four with a minute left, so we were trying to get the ball back then,” Hodgson said.

“But we don’t go into tackles thinking we’re going to strip it, it just happens if it presents itself.

“It’s just worked out in the last block of 10 or 12 weeks. It’s just presented itself and if that’s the rule then that’s what you’re allowed to do.”

Another great weapon in Canberra’s arsenal returns to the field on Saturday night, with Joey Leilua named to start at right centre.

“I thought we missed him at times on the weekend when we could have done with him,” Hodgson said of Leilua.

“But it’s also important obviously from a coach’s point of view that he’d be able to punch out 80 [minutes] for is which I’m sure he’ll be able to do this weekend.

We don’t go into tackles thinking we’re going to strip it

Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson

“It’s a great opportunity for him over the next few weeks to get the game time into his body after being out for a long time leading into finals.”

John Bateman will look to resume his partnership with Leilua after the pair clicked over the opening seven rounds

“When I first got here he said to me ‘mate just chuck the ball and I’ll catch it’ and I thought ‘whatever mate’,” Bateman said.

“Then I started doing it and [he] started catching it, so seeing that gives you confidence especially coming into this week.”

Leilua will play his 200th NRL game this weekend and Jack Wighton his 150th.

“I’m very proud of Jacko [Wighton], he’s come a long way and he’s had a lot of tough times through that 150 and he’s playing career-best footy,” Canberra centre Jarrod Croker said.

Raiders five-eighth Jack Wighton.
Raiders five-eighth Jack Wighton. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

“I’ve been good mates with Jacko for a long time now and I know what he brings to the team when he crosses that line, he’s competitive, he’s aggressive and he wears his heart on his sleeve.”

Leilua’s return pushes Nick Cotric to the left wing with Bailey Simonsson on the bench, a move that could provide Canberra cover for the returning centre or the option of having a fresh player at the end of the game.

“It’s a good position to be in to have somebody like Bailey, who’s been playing so well for us probably come on a lot more than I expected throughout the year,” he said.

“He’s done well enough to keep his spot on the bench, but it’s a tough one, having Saliva [Havili] there is a back-up nine has been handy, but we didn’t really get to use him on the weekend.

“He covers an outside back injury, but then we could throw him on and just let him run at the back end the game with his footwork and speed.”

Hodgson admitted the team could have been better in attack in their narrow loss to the Roosters on Sunday.

“When we looked back I thought we were a bit ordinary in a few places in attack, a few opportunities when we were a bit clunky and could have executed a bit better,” he said.

“We know what we’re doing is working, it’s been working for most of the year and there’s a few areas from the weekend we need to be better at but overall we’re still doing a good job.”

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