December 14, 2008 12:00am
BRONCOS coach Ivan Henjak is confident Justin Hodges will not walk away from rugby league amid concerns the Test star is battling depression.
As Hodges embarks on his off-field recovery, Henjak revealed how a heart-to-heart convinced the club the Broncos ace needed time out to work through an assortment of issues affecting his life away from rugby league.
Concerned by Hodges' mental state, the Broncos granted the centre six weeks' leave on Thursday.
The decision came three days after Hodges failed to attend a Broncos junior development camp in north Queensland.
The community carnival was staged by club sponsor Australia Post, which confirmed Hodges was not present.
The Sunday Mail has learned Hodges missed his flight, scheduled for Monday, after embarking on a long drinking session the previous day at a Brisbane pub.
Under the Broncos' new hardline booze policy, instituted after last season's sexual assault allegations and claims a drinking culture had penetrated the club, chief executive Bruno Cullen has the power to end Hodges' $1 million contract.
However the Broncos are doing everything possible to support Hodges, with his latest binge considered to be symptomatic of deeper problems afflicting the 26-year-old.
The Broncos have offered counselling to Hodges, and Henjak hopes the Maroons centre will return to Red Hill on January 26 focused after his sabbatical.
"We expect him back, but we'll see when he gets back how he is," Henjak said.
"The whole club is here to support Justin.
''If he needs the time, he needs the time.
''We're all supporting him.
''He's one of our players, he's part of this club."
A source close to Hodges said friends had become concerned about his sombre moods and increased drinking in the past month.
The source said the Cairns product had been weighed down by the recent death of a lifelong mate. Hodges also has financial pressures, with the player understood to be doing his best to help family members meet mortgage repayments.
At the same time, Hodges has tried to provide emotional support for Origin and Test teammate Johnathan Thurston, attending the funeral of Thurston's uncle Richard Saunders in October. Hodges is also said to be unhappy with his recovery from an off-season shoulder reconstruction, which has been slower than anticipated.
"Justin has had some tough times lately. He's lost one of his good mates," said the source.
"There's been signs for a while with Justin. There's a few things we've noticed. We've had some chats. He's come to the realisation there's some things he needs to work on."
Henjak said after a meeting with Hodges, all concerned agreed the troubled star needed to temporarily clear his mind of rugby league.
"We had a discussion with Justin as part of the process," Henjak said.
"Since his (shoulder) operation, he's had some dramas with a couple of things.
''The issue has been there a few weeks, so we thought we'd give him the time.
''He needed the time away."
It is not the first time Hodges has sought a break from rugby league. In 2004, he stunned his then club the Sydney Roosters by going AWOL as he struggled to come to terms with life in Sydney.
The Roosters offered counselling to Hodges, who struggled through 2005 before returning to Brisbane to be closer to family.
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