Back from the wilderness, Joel Hodgson feels his loan spell at Rotherham can reinvigorate his Newcastle Falcons career.
The 21-year-old has started just two games at fly-half this season, watching on from the sidelines as Phil Godman and Rory Clegg have shared the No 10 shirt between them for the duration of Newcastle’s Premiership campaign.
Neither have particularly shone in the wake of Jimmy Gopperth’s departure, and the calls for Hodgson’s reintegration have grown louder with Newcastle second-bottom of their division and already out of Europe.
“It has been frustrating,” admitted the RGS old-boy who, concussion test permitting, is in line to start Sunday’s LV= Cup tie at Saracens.
“I was out on the Kingston Park terraces as a little boy watching the Falcons as a supporter, and all I have ever wanted to do is to play for my home club.
“It is hard to watch. Not because I am not playing, but because when you look and see the team coming unstuck you think to yourself could I be making a difference?
“That is what it comes down to, and all I want to do is to help the team win the games that will put us higher up the table.”
Determined not to be a negative influence around the club despite spending much of his time on the periphery, the former England Under-18s cap cuts a remarkably upbeat figure.
“Day in, day out, I just try to be the best I can be on the training pitch,” he said, having started the recent defeat against Brive, but suffering a head injury in the process. In terms of managing how I deal with not being selected, nothing has changed for me. Obviously I ask the questions to the coaches in terms of what I can do better, and how I can get out there.
“Hopefully I can get my chance, and then use it to press my claims to get into the Premiership XV. In terms of the league we started the season well, and that eighth spot is a realistic goal for us to aim for.”
In the absence of regular rugby with Newcastle and in the final year of his contract, the dextrous half-back has had to turn to the Championship for meaningful minutes. Starring for Rotherham in England’s second tier, the Clifton Lane loan spell was just what the doctor ordered for a player whose innate ability to excite has never been in doubt. “Going to Rotherham has been fantastic, and I have really enjoyed it,” said Hodgson. “The way they play rugby suits me down to the ground, and I am appreciative of Lee Blackett as their coach for giving me a chance.
“Dallan Murphy has been out injured for them, and even when he came back they still put me in. To play three full 80 minutes did me the world of good, sharpened me up and improved my confidence.
“It means that when I play for the Falcons I am more relaxed, and not panicking about trying to make something happen every time I touch the ball. Rotherham has been a fantastic experience.
“If I do find myself not getting a run for the Falcons during the back end of the season I will look to go back down to Rotherham, just to keep on top of things and maintain that sharpness.” Hodgson is expected to form part of a youthful Falcons side for Sunday’s LV= Cup excursion, former Durham University full-back Simon Hammersley tipped to make his senior debut in a team also including back-three flyers Zach Kibirige and Tom Catterick.
Meanwhile, Falcons prop Scott Wilson has been named on England Saxons’ bench for tomorrow night’s match against Ireland A.
Should he take the field, the Melrose-born forward would be ineligible to play for Scotland, for whom he also qualifies.