Hodges, Matai need to cool it: Close - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Hodges, Matai need to cool it: Close

By David Beniuk 21/09/2011 06:05:18 PM Comments (0)

They're on course for a shuddering collision on Friday night but fiery NRL rivals Justin Hodges and Steve Matai will need to keep their cool, says former Manly and Queensland centre Chris Close.

Brisbane's Hodges and Manly's Matai will directly oppose each other in the grand final qualifier, a match-up that would normally be expected to shake the Sydney Football Stadium foundations.

Hodges only this week came under the microscope for his controversial tackle on injured St George Illawarra winger Brett Morris at Suncorp Stadium last Saturday night.

Matai has long been the Sea Eagles' hitman, the club revealing they have been using a high-tech "tackle cam" to improve his defensive technique.

But both Test stars will need to make sure they don't cost their teams at the most crucial time of the year, Close said.

"They're both very aggressive players and neither one of them will take a backward step, there's no doubt about that," Close told AAP on Wednesday.

"Realistically, they've both been playing a little bit close to the wind in the last few games so I reckon they might have to watch their Ps and Qs.

"I reckon that the coaches will be saying, 'Listen, you don't want to be giving away any penalties here so don't go creating something that doesn't exist.

"So I think they might have their wings clipped a little bit."

And that will be tough for two men whose on-field aggression is as much a part of their game as their talent.

"No doubt in the world but it's that close to the final hurdle that I don't think either one of them would be wanting to cost their team the opportunity to play in a grand final," said Close, who played 96 games for Manly between 1982-87 and 14 games for the Maroons before becoming the State of Origin side's most famous team manager.

Statistically, little splits the pair this season, although Matai has given away 13 penalties in 20 games to Hodges' four in 16 games, according to nrlstats.com.

Close defended Hodges' tackle on Morris, which referees boss Bill Harrigan confirmed was not illegal this week.

"Your adrenalin's running and your temperature's up and everything's sort of happening very quickly," Close said.

"I'm not going to criticise him for making a decision.

" ... The difference between players like Justin and the rest of them is that those top players are willing to make those choices."

Close, who also played three Tests for Australia, said Matai had also improved his discipline at the tackle.

"I think he's improved his all-round game based on the fact that he has stopped doing the stupid stuff," Close said.

"He's playing with plenty of resolve still and loads of aggression but no stupidity."

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