Maybe round 1, maybe round 3: Hodge ready for Rebels return

«Like any rehab it didn’t go in a straight line or an upward trend, there were a few ups and downs, but I think it turned a corner this past week,» Hodge said.

«I’m back into doing most things at 90-100 per cent, so I can’t say for sure if I will be playing on Friday. Everything would need to go at 100 per cent right for me to play.

«The safer option is to say round three, given we have a bye in round two, but there is still a chance I get up for Friday.

«I’m happy with where it is at at the moment and I’m just building my confidence back in team training now.»

The Rebels have placed a major focus on conditioning work this pre-season, so the team expects to be much sharper and stronger. Meanwhile, post surgery, Hodge’s renowned long-distance kicking is just as strong, and the indications from his surgeon are that he could be much better on his feet.

«I had a screw put in the tibia, at the bottom, and then had a clean-out of some old gunk,» Hodge said.

«It’s feeling a bit looser. Hopefully, fingers crossed, it holds well for the season.

«The surgeon came in after the surgery and said «I don’t know how you have been running around on that thing» – which is always good to hear – but it has felt a little looser and my range has improved since the surgery.

«Hopefully it means a little more athleticism with my running, but it is still early days.»

The 24-year-old fractured his left ankle in an innocuous training accident while away with the Wallabies last October. Surgery followed and forced rest and recovery period, a good chunk of which he spent at home in Sydney.

The time away from the game could well have been just what he needed after a rapid rise into Super Rugby in 2016 and a Wallabies call-up not long after.

«It was quite a good mental break for me to get away from things for eight to 10 weeks towards the end of last year and spend some time at home with family and friends,» Hodge said.

«I’m feeling really refreshed now and right for the season.»

With a more settled list and proven star playmakers Will Genia and Quade Cooper paired in the halfback and five-eighth roles, the Rebels know they go into the season highly rated.

But experience has taught Hodge expectations mean little without results, and he sees a side focused on making a strong start and carrying that form and belief through the season.

«I would say it’s definitely there externally, everyone tells me we should win the comp when I speak to them,» Hodge said.

«I guess as a playing group we didn’t give ourselves that leeway last year, we expected to do just as well last year as we do this year. Throughout pre-season you don’t go in wanting to finish eighth or nine or fourth or fifth, you go in wanting to win the thing.

«So everything we are doing and (have) taken from last year is with the goal of ultimately winning Super Rugby.

«I think the expectations within the organisation are high, like they should be. We can’t control the external expectations, but if we start well that will take care of itself.»

Melbourne Rebels play ACT Brumbies in Canberra on Friday at 7.45pm AEDT. Their first home game is against the Highlanders at AAMI Park on March 1 at 7.45pm AEDT.

Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.




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