NRL 2023: How Josh Hodgson was recruited by Parramatta Eels helped Haze Dunster recover from a knee injury

Parramatta defender Haze Dunster has paid tribute to new signing Josh Hodgson for getting him out of his darkest days long before they were teammates.

Long before they became teammates, Haze Dunster and Josh Hodgson traded secrets. Not about how to win football games, but about how to recover from a serious knee injury.

Dunster’s story was one of the saddest stories of last year, his hopes of playing in the first class were dashed early in the pre-season when an ugly tackle from St George Illawarra’s Tyrell Fuimaono mutilated his knee.

There are four major ligaments in the knee and Dunster has torn three of them. The swelling was so bad that the doctors had to operate twice.

First they repaired his medial collateral ligament. Then, five weeks later, they went back and finished the job, fixing his anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.

At his lowest point, Dunster quit watching rugby league. Staring desperately ahead of a long and arduous recovery, Dunster received an out of the blue text from Hodgson, then Canberra and a veteran of two knee reconstructions.

Hodgson told Dunster if he needed anything, he was there. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, he said. He then maintained contact over the following weeks.

Remarkably, they are now teammates after Hodgson’s off-season move from the nation’s capital.

“Hodgo reached out to me before he was at the club and told me if I needed anything to reach me,” Dunster said.

“He’s been checking in every now and then to see how I’m doing. I thought it would be a great thing for him to do.”

Eel’s captain Clint Gutherson, another knee reconstruction veteran, was also a sounding board. So does the late Isaiah Papali’I, who has made it his personal mission to reawaken Dunster’s spirits.

The fact that he now stands in the middle of the club’s training ground in Kellyville, just weeks away from a return, is a tribute not only to Dunster’s determination but also to those who put their arms around him and helped him grow to fight back.

“It was a hard pill to swallow,” he said.

“For the first couple of weeks I didn’t watch any football at all – I was kind of football crazy. The main thing was the mental struggle I think, trying to stay positive.

“You go from doing something every day to lying on the couch and struggling to go to the bathroom. I’m thankful I got out the other end.”

His recovery was a slow process. Dunster walked on crutches for about eight weeks, then in braces for another month. Then he taught himself to walk again. To take his mind off his struggle, he began learning Maori – he was born in New Zealand before moving to Sydney with his family when he was 10.

“It was really repetitive,” he said.

“When I ran, I felt off balance. I looked goofy – the boys said I looked like a baby giraffe.

“I started contact about four weeks ago – they started drip feeding me (for training). I did my first full session about two weeks ago.

“After every carry and tackle I got more confident with it. Now I’m just looking forward to playing.”

However, he still has to be patient. He will go to the doctor on Monday and hopefully get a clearance to play.

Then he needs the green light from physics. If everything goes according to plan, he will play in Parramatta’s second trial and he has his sights set on playing round one.

There’s a chance he would have been there last year if it wasn’t for the knee injury. Instead, he was forced to watch the club’s grand final from the sidelines.

At 23, he is determined to force his way into the Eels side and help the club compete for the Premiership once again.

“That’s my goal,” he said.

“It’s not up to me – I have to get doctor’s approval and a physio clearance. I’m definitely trying to push for that second try and hopefully first game.

“I feel confident enough to play and ready to go…. but i still have to remember that the doc knows better and he knows my knee better than i do.

“I must remain patient and deviate from their word. If they say I can play round one I’m excited and ready to go. But if not, I’m still not too excited.

“It was a long journey. I don’t want to rush things.”


Parramatta’s half Mitchell Moses has vowed money will play second fiddle to his bid for premiership as he prepares to consider his future ahead of round one.

Moses, at the center of a multi-million dollar tug of war between the Eels and Wests Tigers, has returned to pre-season in the best form of his career.

He has been driven in the off-season by a desire to atone for last year’s Premiership defeat and put contract talks on the back burner while trying to do even better than last year.

At some point Moses knows that he has to make a phone call. That day, he says, is fast approaching.

“Definitely, I want to get it sorted before the season starts,” Moses said.

“Right now it’s with my management and they will let me know when it’s ready. You are good at keeping me focused on Parramatta and what we are trying to do to start the year well.

“I didn’t feel any pressure. I handled it much better than before, you can learn that from past negotiations and contract talks.

“Whatever happens, happens, I guess.”


To be honest, Moses can’t really lose. Wherever he ends up, he will have the opportunity to settle down for the rest of his life. If you listen to the rumor mill, the Tigers are willing to bid up to $1.4 million a season to lure their prodigal son back to the club.

The Eels offer won’t be as high but Moses has settled into Parramatta and knows the club will be in contention for titles for the foreseeable future.

While money will play a role in his decision, Moses insists he is motivated by a desire to win the premiership.

“I want to win a competition – it’s as simple as that,” Moses said.

“Talk to other players and they want to win a competition – that’s all I’ve wanted to do since I started playing footy when I was four.

“I wanted to play professional footy, I want to win a competition. That’s all I wanted to do, that’s all I aspired to in my football career.

“Last year we were close, I can learn some lessons from that and I want to win the competition. As simple as that.”


Moses has yet to watch a replay of last year’s huge loss to Penrith, but at some point he plans to sit in front of his TV and see what he can get out of that loss.

The Eels were blown away in the first 40 minutes and Moses wants to know why. He wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“I definitely want to see it before the start of the year,” he said.

“Of course it will hurt, but I just have to go. I have to face what happened, (figure out), where we went wrong, and what we can fix.

“We’re a different team this year but I definitely want to sit down and watch it alone. I feel like I get too frustrated otherwise. “They obviously came out enthusiastic and we just have to keep up with them. Don’t take anything away from Penrith, they’ve been amazing, they’re the best team in three years.

“They are a quality site to match. If I can learn some lessons from this game, my first grand final, it will help me in the future.”


Moses has returned to pre-season in the best form of his career. Immediately after last year’s grand final, he flew to England to play for Lebanon at the World Cup.

After their quarter-final elimination, he flew home to be with his partner Bri and their young daughter Aspyn. In between diaper changes, he’s rushed to get stronger and fitter.

“It’s probably the fittest thing I’ve ever felt in a season, definitely,” he said.

“I’m fitter and stronger, everything, but that’s probably just come with age. I’m a bit older, I’m starting to fill out my body.

“It only took me 10 years. I’ve come back here in the past and haven’t been up to speed. With age and the way the game has changed since I got to first grade, you can’t just go and wait until first grade day of pre-season to be ready.

“You have to stay fit. Not whipping myself… I’ve tried doing things outside for the past few years, but I’m more focused on doing it myself than relying on anyone else.”

He also acknowledged the influence of his daughter, who was born during last year’s finals series.

“It gave me peace of mind to spend some time with her,” he said. “You do your workout and then come home and relax, spend some time with her. It’s a fair change that hopefully has matured me a bit.”


As Moses’ body shape changed, so did the eel’s spine. Reed Mahoney is gone and England star Josh Hodgson has joined Parramatta.

He made an immediate impression. Eels players have praised his leadership and impact on the group. Moses believes Hodgson’s arrival will make him a better player by sharing the burden.

“He’s definitely a different hooker,” Moses said. “Reed has been outstanding, he’s done an incredible job in the four years he’s been here.

“He was outstanding, the Bulldogs are lucky to have him on board and he’s the captain now so he’ll be going to the next phase of his career.

“Hodgo is a different player, a more experienced player. His leadership is amazing, I’ve never seen anything like it before to be honest.

“I’m really looking forward to playing alongside Hodgo. He’s a different hooker, we try to work on our combinations in practice.”

The other significant change was in the coaching staff – former Manly and Canterbury manager Trent Barrett has joined the club as an assistant and immediately bonded with Moses.

“He was superb, Baz,” Moses said.

“I’ve never had such a calm half coach, he really narrowed my game a bit. Me and Baz, I probably have a chat with him every day about what we’re going to do.

“I love talking about footy, he loves talking about footy, he was just perfect.”

Originally released as NRL 2023: How Parramatta Eel’s Recruitment Josh Hodgson helped out Haze Dunster after suffering a knee injury NRL 2023: How Josh Hodgson was recruited by Parramatta Eels helped Haze Dunster recover from a knee injury

Ryan Sederquist

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