AS the Newcastle Knights unveiled Trent Hodkinson as captain for their 30th-anniversary season, the club’s inaugural skipper, Sam Stewart, is planning a remarkable comeback.
Hodkinson’s appointment was confirmed at the Knights’ season launch, held at Newcastle Marina on Friday night.
The former NSW Origin halfback was one of three co-captains last season but Jeremy Smith has since retired and Tariq Sims joined St George Illawarra.
Knights coach Nathan Brown has this year opted for a lone skipper, and 28-year-old Hodkinson was endorsed by the leadership group.
“It’s a great privilege, a great honour, to be a captain of an NRL side,’’ Hodkinson said.
“I know the history, and everything that goes with being a Newcastle Knights player, let alone a captain.
“So I’m very excited about leading the boys around again and I can’t wait to get out there.’’
Hodkinson said the responsibility “won’t change my role too much” and he had a “strong leadership group in place now” to provide support.
“Hopefully we can just set the standards for the guys coming through and they’ll be better off for last year, the experience they had, moving forward this year,’’ he said.
He will follow in the footsteps of iconic Knights leaders such as Andrew Johns, Paul Harragon, Tony Butterfield, Danny Buderus, Mark Sargent, Kurt Gidley, Michael Hagan and the club’s original captain, Slammin’ Sam Stewart.
Stewart, now 54 and retired for two decades, has agreed to return to the field this year to help with the resurrection of foundation Newcastle Rugby League club North Newcastle.
The Bluebags have effectively been defunct since merging with Nelson Bay in 1989, but are poised to rise from the grave in 2017, playing in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League second-division competition.
Stewart, through his friendship with North vice-chairman and former Knights team manager Gary Callaghan, has committed to play on an occasional basis.
The former Kiwi Test star lives on the Gold Coast but intends to fly back to Newcastle for games. He is expected to attend his first training session next week.
“We didn’t even have to ask him,’’ North chairman Steve Doran said.
“He just told Gary he’s read about our plans, and the history of our club, and he volunteered to play.
“He works out every day and is still fit as a mallee bull, so we’re delighted to have him.
“He wants to be part of it and hopefully teach the young blokes a trick or two. He’s coming down next week to train with the boys.’’
Doran said Stewart would play “probably not every weekend, but he will be available for important matches’’.
The fearless back-rower played in 81 top-grade games for the Knights between 1988 and 1993 and was the first player to be awarded life membership of the club.
Doran said North had secured more than enough players to field a team, have appointed a coach in former Gunnedah player Dennis Hoffman, and have had a jersey designed to match the strip they wore in winning 15 first-grade premierships.
They also intend to fund a team to compete this season in the Sydney Metro women’s competition.
North have been talking to Newcastle City Council about potential home grounds.