How cricket saved Penrith's new Earl of Twirl
It's been a meteoric rise for 23-year old left arm spinner, Luke Hodges.
Having made his first grade debut just a little over twelve months ago, the Cranebrook junior has made every post a winner thus far in 2017-18 having already taken 30 wickets in all formats of the game.
In fact Hodges, who played just four second grade games before being handed his first grade debut in the opening game of the 2016/17 season, is on track to record his best ever season since first coming to the club as a 16 year old in the 2012-13 season.
A very happy Luke Hodges is enjoying his break-out season in first grade. Credit: 77 Media.
But this could have been a much different story.
By his own admission, Hodges had a tumultuous upbringing that could have easily resulted with the talented cricketer ending up in jail.
But with thanks to his mum and lower grades skipper Chris Withers, the now father of one managed to find a different path, for which he is very grateful.
"(Growing up as a teenager) it definitely wasn't easy. I grew up out in Cranebrook basically raised by just my mum since I was seven." Hodges told Nepean News.
"It was pretty tough, having to help raise my little sister.
"Then during high school, in Year 10 and 11 I almost did (fall off the rails) hanging out with the wrong crowd and stuff.
"It got pretty bad and there was a time where I was going to give cricket away but I decided to stay on.
"By sticking with cricket and taking it more seriously I have no doubt it kept me from going down a different path.
"My mum and then my fifth grade captain Chris Withers helped me with that decision.
"It wasn't long after Chris came to the club and was made captain of fifths, he quickly took me under his wing.
"Ever since then Chris and his dad has been pushing me on, helping me get to where I am today. I'm glad they did."
Penrith left arm spinner and Bill O’Reilly medallist, Pat Jackson, says Hodges, affectionately nicknamed “Bart”, is a vastly underrated spinner and added that a spot in a BBL franchise’s academy roster isn’t out of the question should his performances in the top grade continue.
“I think Luke is underrated by everyone, I don’t think people expected him to be able to handle the pressure of playing first grade,” Jackson said.
“But I always thought that he has the fight and little bit of mongrel about him that he just wants to succeed.
“Luke is more of a consistency bowler than a big turner or drifter which is suited to the shorter forms and if he keeps this going for a year or two, could even be a chance to be a BBL academy player.”
Hodges took five wickets on T20 Cup Final Day at the SCG. Credit: Ian Bird.
Hodges' stats make a compelling case as to why good judges regard the left-arm spinner as being a NSW representative hopeful in the not-too-distant future.
Hodges' outstanding T20 Cup campaign where he was second (13 wickets) only to team mate Michael Castle (14 wickets) as the competition's leading wicket taker, has seen the spinner placed fourth overall for most wickets taken in all forms of the game in 2017/18.
But the green-keeper by trade is just happy for now knowing he has nailed a first grade spot, given he was in and out of the squad in 2016/17 and says he would be satisfied if he could secure his maiden five-wicket haul in first grade and score some runs this season.
"It's been a big step up for me but it is pleasing to have secured that spot this season," Hodges declared.
"Last year was my first year in the top grade.
"I didn't even start the next season in twos, I was straight into first grade and have found myself playing at this level pretty much ever since.
"This year I've gone a bit better and knowing my spot in the team is now safe, I can concentrate on working hard at training and bowling well on the weekends and getting the rewards.
"As for my goals, at the moment I just want to continue having the season I'm having in first grade, continue to take more wickets in general, take a maiden five-for and score 200 plus runs.
"I just want the team to do well because if I'm doing well and the team's doing well, then we'll all be happy."
"Apart from that, we'll see what happens in the off season, prepare well for the next and see where it goes from there.
Luke Hodges has also improved his batting this season. Credit 77 Media.