KNIGHTS coach Nathan Brown has no doubt Trent Hodkinson can be a valuable asset at his new club, Cronulla.
Newcastle agreed over the weekend to release the former NSW Origin halfback and on Monday he officially signed a one-year deal with the Sharks.
Brown admitted Hodkinson at times faced a thankless task at the Knights, especially during his first season, 2016, when the most inexperienced team in the NRL won only one of their 24 games.
“Hokko spent most of his first 12 months with the Knights when he was one of the only players we had who’d played much first grade at all,” Brown said.
“It was very, very difficult circumstances, especially playing in a position where he was relying on others to help him do his job.
“We had a lot of young forwards who weren’t really ready, and it would have been difficult for any halfback, whether it was Andrew Johns or Johnathan Thurston.
“But he handled himself first-class.”
Brown said at a team with a strong roster like Cronulla’s, Hodkinson could show his true worth, just as he did at Manly and Canterbury before joining Newcastle.
“Going to Cronulla, there’s seven or eight internationals in that side, and that makes life easier for anyone,” he said.
“I’m sure he’ll be a very, very handy acquisition for them. For us, there’s not a lot of financial gain in letting Trent go. It’s just that we’ve signed Mitchell [Pearce] and Connor [Watson], to go with Brock [Lamb] and Jack [Cogger], so our halves are an area where we’re quite strong.”
The Knights are understood to have paid the bulk of Hodkinson’s reported $850,000 salary in advance.
Brown was hopeful Hodkinson would be the last player Newcastle have to pay to play for a rival club.
Since the coach arrived at the end of 2015, the likes of Akuila Uate, Jake Mamo, Chris Houston and Adam Clydsdale have also received partial payouts after being encouraged to move on.
But all those players were under existing contracts, as opposed to those on the current roster, which has been assembled by Brown and football manager Darren Mooney.
“All the players that are here now are either young players that we wanted to keep, and have had their contracts extended, or players that we’ve brought into the club,” Brown said.
“Moons never paid a player to leave Cronulla, when he worked there, and I’d like to think the days of that happening here are pretty much done now.
“All those guys [moved on] were here before I came to the club.
“They signed their contracts in good faith, they’re all great guys and they were entitled to get what they were worth.”
Brown said the only way he could see contracted Knights being paid to leave the club in future “is if we make a bad business decision”.
Hodkinson said on Monday that conversations with his former NSW Origin teammates Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Michael Ennis, a member of Cronulla’s coaching staff, had convinced him to join the Sharks.
“Gal gave me a ring pretty early on, and I’ve spoken to Lewy and Mick a number of times,” he said.
“They’ve told me what a great place it is to live and a great club to play for. Those guys helped me along with my final decision and I’m happy to be here now.”
Hodkinson said “I knew where I sat” at Newcastle after their belated decision to sign Pearce in December, but added that he was “as confident as ever” that he could perform in the NRL.
He insisted his much-publicised knee injury, which restricts him from participating in many training sessions, was not a problem.
“The knee’s fine,” he said. “I’ve missed one game in the last five or six years because of it.
“It’s feeling good. As long as I’m looking after it and doing the maintenance, I’m looking forward to getting down here and working with the guys down here. That won’t be troubling me.”
He was “looking forward to getting into a positive environment” and settling in the Sutherland Shire, which he and wife Chantelle called home during his years at the Bulldogs.
“We lived here for five or six years before I went up north, so I’m looking forward to getting settled back here,” Hodkinson said.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said Hodkinson would “add to our depth and experience in the halves”.
“He's fully aware he's coming here as a back-up, but these days you need a real competitive 30-man squad with four halves … Trent has had some recent injury issues, but I believe we have the best high-performance staff in the NRL and we will work hard on getting his body right and getting him on the field,” he said.