Matt Lodge has launched his Brisbane Broncos career, with his new club convinced his life is heading in an upward trajectory.
The 22-year-old prop, who has signed an $85,000 one-year deal with Brisbane, joined a group of 20 Broncos for fitness testing at the University of Queensland on Thursday morning.
An alcohol-fuelled rampage in New York in 2015 saw Lodge arrested by police and subsequently sacked by the Wests Tigers.
The NRL have since lifted the ban they placed on Lodge playing in the national competition after becoming satisfied with his off-field progress.
The Broncos observed Lodge at close quarters throughout his stellar 2017 season with the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup.
He trained at Brisbane’s Red Hill base during the season and received support from Broncos with regards to his personal development.
Brisbane assistant coach Jason Demetriou - who watched Lodge train on his first day of pre-season work - welcomed the new signing.
“Matt hasn’t had a drink for a couple of years, he is studying away from footy and his partner is having a baby, so there are a lot of good things going on in his life,” he told NRL.com.
“Getting his career back on track is going to help him to continue the development he has taken on in the last couple of years.
“I can’t say a bad word about him. His approach to his training and his professionalism, and with everything he’s had to do, is first class.”
While Lodge will bring size and physicality to the Broncos pack, Demetriou said the big man’s ball playing ability could also prove an asset.
“Matt has got as good a passing game as some halves in the competition and the ability to dig into the line and create space,” he said.
“He is pretty smart too, so you can do a lot with him in terms of attacking variations.
“It just helps our halves when you have forwards who can play with the footy, and he will suit the style the Broncos play with.
“Matt is itching to get into pre-season and get his NRL career going again and we are going to make sure we take the pressure off him and allow him to build into the season.
“It is not going to all come at once. It is going to take hard work and patience because he hasn’t played at this level for a while, but there is a lot of upside to him.”
Brisbane CEO Paul White told the club’s website that the Broncos were convinced Lodge deserved a second chance after he took responsibility for his actions and showed he was willing to work hard and get his life back in order.
White said Lodge had also been doing regular work with young men on the dangers of alcohol and the importance of them taking responsibility for their actions.
“We believe he is now on the right path and a far more mature and responsible person who has learned from his mistakes, and we will continue to support him on his journey,” White said.