FORMER Knights captain Trent Hodkinson has fired a belated broadside at his ex-coach, Nathan Brown, over the circumstances that prompted him to leave Newcastle almost two years ago.
Hodkinson, who retired in September at the age of 31, spent two seasons with the Knights before the club's decision to recruit Mitchell Pearce persuaded him to sign with Cronulla in February last year.
He subsequently re-joined Manly, his original NRL club, before a knee injury ended his career after 174 top-grade games and six State of Origins for NSW.
Speaking in a recent podcast with former Manly and Parramatta forward Justin Horo, Hodkinson recalled the "toxic enviornment" after Brown dropped him to NSW Cup after seven games of Newcastle's 2017 campaign.
At that point, the goalkicking halfback had played in 30 of a possible 31 games since arriving at the Knights from Canterbury.
"The second year came around and I had one of the best pre-seasons I'd had, leading into that season," Hodkinson said.
"Fittest I've ever felt. I lost a heap of weight, bunkered right down on my diet and everything.
"I started the year all right, and I think it might have been early in the season I got brought into the coach's office and he said to me: 'I want you to go back to [NSW Cup] and work on your confidence.'
"I was like: 'Oh, OK' ... I think he felt the pressure and had to make a big call.
"Unfortunately for me, I took the fall for where we were at at the time."
What Hodkinson assumed would be a short stint in reserve grade dragged on for 10 weeks.
"I thought I'd go back for a couple of weeks and get my confidence back, which I didn't really agree with, but two weeks rolls around, nothing said," he recalled.
"Four weeks, six weeks, didn't hear a [thing].
"Walked past each other, nothing was said.
"Ten weeks rolled around and I was just going: 'What's doing here?'
"In the meantime, there were certain things getting leaked to the media - the local media up there - that I wasn't too happy about."
Hodkinson said Brown denied leaking information to discredit him, but added: "I know for a fact that it was coming from him."
He was eventually recalled to first grade and featured in a mini-revival, during which the Knights won three games in a row, but realised he was on the outer.
"After that 10 weeks rolled around, I said: 'I've got to remove myself from this environment'," he said.
"It got quite toxic up there, with the 'he said, she said'. It wasn't a fun place to be around.
"So I started looking elsewhere, and got my manager to.
"I wanted to stay, but it got to the point where it had just gone on too long ... it takes its toll on you."
Hodkinson received a huge severance payout from Newcastle but said he accepted a pay cut to leave.
He said after agreeing to move on, "all of a sudden it was like they were my best mates again", and he was publicly praised by Brown.
"He came out in the papers and said: 'Hodko's had the hardest job of any halfback in the last decade'," he said.
"And I was like: 'Where was that before?'"
Hodkinson said his friendships with Newcastle's players would "never disappear" but clearly he holds a different opinion of Brown.
"If it had have been nipped in the bud early, I would have had so much more respect for the coach at the time," he said.
"It was just a very toxic environment and disappointing."
Hodkinson ultimately played 40 NRL games for the Knights over two seasons, scoring two tries and kicking 93 goals, despite a long-term knee injury that required constant management.
Brown was made aware of Hodkinson's comments but declined to respond.