‘I can’t believe he’s in our game’
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg has been grilled about Brisbane recruit Matt Lodge, who is preparing for his first NRL game in three years after spending time out because he terrorised several people - including a nine-year-old child - during an alcohol-fuelled rampage in New York in 2015.
He has yet to start paying back the $1.56 million in damages awarded in a US District Court case to the victims of his home invasion, and Sydney Triple M Grill Team member Gus Worland told Greenberg he is disgusted the former Wests Tigers star has been allowed to come back to the NRL.
"Matt Lodge - he's a bad egg. I can't believe he's playing for the Broncos, I can't believe that he's in our game," Worland said. "He will play on Thursday night in the season-opener with millions of people watching - why is he playing and why is he registered?"
Greenberg defended the decision to register Lodge's contract, saying he deserves a second chance to turn his life around.
"This young guy made a horrible mistake. He has paid a significant price for that. He's a young man and I believe rugby league is part of the solution to help him turn his life around," Greenberg said.
"This was a really bad one (error of judgment). He's spent more than two years out of the game. I've fronted him and eyeballed him, I've watched him and I've listened to some of the demonstrations he's made to me.
"He gets a second shot but he won't get a third so what he has to do is put his head down and work really hard and demonstrate to his club and the game that this chance is everything for him and I think he will do that.
"At some point you've got to give this kid a second chance and you've got to hold him accountable to that chance. Ultimately he'll grab it with both hands or not."
On the same program, Newcastle great Matty Johns questioned how the NRL is going to ensure Lodge pays his victims back and even suggested the Broncos should have paid the $1.56 million in damages straight up.
Greenberg said the best way for the prop to remunerate the affected parties was to be working (ie playing) and insisted there were discussions going on behind the scenes about how best to deal with his situation.
'DIRTY' ASPECT TO MAKE A COMEBACK
Matty Johns wants rugby league to get dirty again, and Greenberg agrees.
Johns said it was time to reduce the amount of interchanges each side receives per game from eight to six to speed the spectacle up.
With wrestling and slowing down rucks a hot topic every season, Johns wants the game to look at ways to maintain a fast pace so fatigue becomes a factor once more. He said as players get more tired, the less injuries we see from explosive collisions and it also helps bring smaller players into the action while big boppers can't run over the top of opponents at will.
"We moved the game to eight interchanges (from 10) which lifted the game remarkably," Johns said. "I'm looking at the trial games and they're catching up to you again - it's time to go to six."
Greenberg agreed, saying whereas once fatigue was considered a "dirty" word, it's a pivotal part of the game and the NRL will explore ways to make it a factor once again by speeding up the on-field action.
"We're not shy of looking at it (the number of interchanges) again so this year we are going to do that work again," Greenberg said. "We had two years where we went from 10 to eight and on top of that we've also brought the number of stoppages around scrums way down with the shot clock.
"Every time we go to a decision with the bunker it's now around 50 seconds - it used to be 90 seconds. That's taking minutes and minutes of standing around back so fatigue's in it. Do we need to go again? Maybe we do.
"For a while I reckon fatigue was a dirty word in the game and I think it's one of the game's great strengths. Fatigue is what makes rugby league as great as it is and we should have every body shape being able to play the game."
EELS REBUFF STERLO'S STING
Parramatta's big men have brushed aside a critique from club great Peter Sterling that the blue and golds are in need of a quality front-rower. Despite Sterling's veiled criticism of last year's signing of Jarryd Hayne, Eels middle men Nathan Brown and Daniel Alvaro said they had the pack to match the best in the NRL.
After Hayne's return to Sydney's west was secured, Sterling said he believed the cross-code star's reported $500,000 salary would have been better spent securing another representative-level prop.
"If you have that money to spend, we probably need another class front-rower to bolster that position," Sterling said at the time.
It led coach Brad Arthur to defend his front-row rotation, which this year had added Kane Evans.
"I don't really read too much media. But I'm really confident in what we've got here," Alvaro said when asked whether the Eels' front row was lacking. Alvaro said he was buoyed in the confidence in him shown by Arthur and it had shown in his football.
"It's just the culture he's formed here," Alvaro said. "Just how he can get everyone to buy in all the time, he gets everyone wanting to work hard.
"I think everyone finds it easy to buy in."
Brown enjoyed a breakout 2017 under Arthur after his defection from South Sydney.
He shrugged off his unsavoury reputation and made the sixth-most metres of any forward in the competition - behind Jason Taumalolo, Paul Gallen, Scott Bolton, Josh McGuire and Martin Taupau.
"The first time I met him, I said to my manager, 'This is the club I'd like to be at.' Luckily enough, I fitted in well. He's really helped me enjoy my footy," Brown said of Arthur.
"He's very protective of his players and that's what we love about him. He puts all the trust in us and we trust him."
- Steve Zemek, AAP