Rugby league deserves better

With Matthew Lodge plying his trade for the Brisbane Broncos despite his heinous past behaviour, it's worth asking whether or not the game deserves better.


Picture Credit: NAPARAZZI

When I first wrote about Matthew Lodge, I did so because I felt compelled to voice a personal displeasure that he was going to try and use rugby league as his platform for redemption.

At the time, he was coming back to link up with the Brisbane Broncos feeder team and I found the idea that a man charged with and found guilty of his actions in New York city could even be on the radar of any club in the NRL preposterous.

Rugby league in this country has a rich history of violence and violent acts against women, but it had, to a degree, taken steps toward rectifying the negative social actions of a diverse group of players. Women in League round, pink jerseys, fundraisers for White Ribbon, the signs were positive that rugby league and the people that run it at the highest levels knew that women were an important and integral part of our game and always had been.

Those positive steps have been cruelly thrown out the window on the back of the league’s refusal to blacklist a bloke I can best describe as a complete and utter grub.

A gutless, horrific assault

In his attack on Ms Dekeyser, Ms Fowler, Mr Cartright and his son, Matthew Lodge inexorably gave up his right to be part of the fabric of our game, a game owned by the people, the working class game.

At the time, I was a passionate protestor at the thought Lodge could worm his way back into the sport. My initial thoughts and concerns were ably confirmed when friends of Lodge chose my Facebook inbox as the perfect place to attack my opinion and threaten my physical wellbeing. I’m a big guy, probably a little bigger than I should be, and I’m not one to dive headfirst into a fight, but I dismissed these idiotic buffoons as merely symptomatic of a wider malaise.

The old adage ‘violence begets violence’ comes to mind. It is of no surprise to me that friends of a cowardly grub who resorts to physically assaulting women and terrifying children in their own homes would feel not only the need to defend the right of their ‘mate’ to come back to footy because he felt bad about what he’d done, but to add the extra threat of violence to make their point a little more marked.

I’m quite sure the irony is still lost on them to be honest.

The fact is, the Broncos did what most NRL clubs would do when posed with the option of bringing in Matthew Lodge. They weighed up his on-field talent against the hit their public profile would take. Clearly, they felt his ability warranted the move. That is for them to judge, but I find it incredibly hard to fathom.

For all his undoubted ability, the man has consistently shown nothing more than the ability to shoot himself in the foot and treat his employers, coaches and teammates with a lack of respect. His litany of former clubs stands testament to how he approaches the disciplined, methodical world of professional sport.

Bad track record

Having been a junior in the Penrith area, Lodge played his under 20s football with the Panthers before he was moved on for disciplinary reasons. He then linked up with the Melbourne Storm, possibly the most well-run, disciplined outfit in the league.

The expectation among Penrith fans who’d seen him develop was that he would be a star in Victoria because all he truly lacked was the kind of targeted, vicious discipline that a Craig Bellamy type coach thrives on.

After he was televised with a four-letter profanity written on his strapping tape playing Under 20s State of Origin for New South Wales, and a reported bust-up with management in Melbourne, Lodge wound up at the Wests Tigers.

Lodge would play just four first grade games for the club before his New York brain explosion and the subsequent fallout or, seemingly more appropriately, the complete lack of genuine consequence that has led to the point where, once again, this behemoth is settling in to play first grade rugby league in the NRL and his victims are yet to see a single dime, penny or quarter for the nightmare he put them through.

Yes, financial compensation is only a small part of the process and money will never put things right again by the victims of this horrid Neanderthal, but if his contrition is as genuine as the club suggest, making some effort toward repaying the $US525,000 owed to Mr Cartright, the $US400,00 owed to Ms Fowler or the $US250,000 owed Ms Dekeyser would be a minimum expectation.

Lodge can talk about redemption and being a changed man all he likes, publicly or privately, but his words are as hollow as any I’ve ever heard.

That there are dozens of examples of players who have committed violent crimes away from the field does little to detract from the overall hypocritical nature of a league who’s CEO can stand at functions and declare life bans were on the cards for violent offenders and then not bat an eyelid as Lodge is welcomed back with open arms.

There are countless others who should have never have been given a second leg up into the game, from Robert Lui to so many that naming them would double the length of this piece. That the NRL handed them the right to rebuild in the game didn’t make it right then, it certainly doesn’t now.

Simply put, the boffins at NRL HQ had the chance to step up and make the sort of decision that acts as a guiding post for the morality of the code moving forward. They declined the chance to stand up for the game, as did the Broncos.

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Daniel Lang

Rugby League & Cricket editor at RealSport.

Daniel is a passionate advocate for the game of rugby league and the development of the sport across the world and, as such, writes with a zeal and determination to spread the gospel of the game.

A huge fan of cricket, football, NFL, Tennis and Supercar racing in Australia, Daniel can quickly find himself a casual fan of just about any sport after putting his mind to watching it.

Daniel is also one-half of the hugely successful podcast 'Panthers Weekly with Strawbs & Teach' where he talks all things Panthers Weekly while he also hosts the current affairs show 'the Strawbs Show' and the 'Summer of Cricket with Strawbs & Shnuu' as well as appearing on the Sydney FC covering 'Nothing But Blue Skies' podcast occasionally.

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