Benji backs Lodge for NRL return
His path to the NRL has been disrupted by a string of off-field indiscretions but Matthew Lodge has learnt enough from his mistakes not to be considered a risk for a potential club according to Broncos half Benji Marshall.
A former captain of the Junior Kangaroos who had stints at both the Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm, Lodge has spent the 2017 season playing for Redcliffe in the Intrust Super Cup after sitting out the entire 2016 season because of a drunken rampage in New York in late 2015 that resulted in a stint in prison and the Tigers tearing up his contract.
An application by the Broncos to have Lodge registered this year was rejected by the NRL but the governing body has now given conditional approval to his return providing he can continue to conduct himself in an appropriate manner.
The 22-year-old began training with the Broncos in April in the hope that a contract could be registered this year and even though he has expressed his intention to return to Sydney in 2018 to be with his pregnant partner, Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett remains hopeful of keeping him at Red Hill.
At the Broncos and also playing for Redcliffe, Marshall has witnessed first-hand Lodge's determination to turn his life around and was adamant that he no longer represented a risk to a club or the NRL.
"I don't think so. I think he understands what he's done and he's repaired in his mind what he needed to change about his life and I really think he's turned those things around," said Marshall, who had already left the Tigers by the time Lodge made his NRL debut with the club in Round 17, 2014.
"He's had his head down, bum up since he's been here and been putting in the hard yards.
"I know it's been pretty tough for him personally off the field but his reaction to what has happened and the way he's tried to turn his life around, it seems to happen with guys under Wayne.
"They find the right path. I think they understand once they come here if they go off that path Wayne is pretty quick to make sure they stay on it. I think they're lucky to have people like Wayne around."
Named Intrust Super Cup Prop of the Year at the Queensland Rugby League's annual awards night last week, Lodge has a critical role to play for the Dolphins this week when they travel to Papua New Guinea to face the Hunters in the grand final qualifier.
An enormously powerful specimen, Lodge would add considerable bulk to a Broncos forward pack lacking a serious big bopper and make an immediate impression on the competition according to Marshall.
"Without doubt at training you can see he's a first-grader," said Marshall, who has been recalled into the Brisbane starting side for Friday's qualifying final against the Roosters.
"He's been playing outstanding for [Redcliffe] and obviously with his award as Prop of the Year it's a great reward for how good he's been going.
"It's a pretty tough gig when you know you're a first-grader like he is and not be allowed to play but I'm just happy he's got the all-clear for next year and I think he'll be a big addition for whoever he plays for."