Controversial prop Matt Lodge has been appointed the unofficial ‘minder’ of perennial problem child James Roberts - proof the Brisbane Broncos are convinced the former jailbird is a completely changed man.
Lodge has come under fire the past week for being welcomed back into the NRL system without paying any compensation to the victims of his infamous 2015 rampage through a New York apartment.
The ex-Panthers, Storm and Tigers forward was ordered to pay a total of US$1.234m ($1.56m) in damages to four individuals who successfully prosecuted a civil case in the US District Court last March.
At the time of the order Lodge was resuming his rugby league career after 18 months in exile, with QLD Cup outfit Redcliffe, one of several feeder teams for the Broncos.
He spent the season earning minimal sums from football, and worked as a labourer to support his young family.
It’s understood Lodge offered to settle the case by offering everything he could afford at the time - an offer his supporters now claim was ignored.
The 22-year-old has also battled to settle US legal debts of around $100,000, with his parents ultimately forced to re-mortgage the family home in Western Sydney to pay his attorneys.
Fast forward 12 months and Lodge is on the cusp of playing his first NRL game in three years after debuting for the Broncos in last week’s trial win over Gold Coast.
Amid the storm around Lodge’s return, 7th Tackle have learned Brisbane officials and coaching staff are completely satisfied with his redemption.
Such is their confidence that Lodge has spent the past few months shadowing the troublesome Roberts.
Understood to be on his last warning with the NRL after terminations at both Souths and Penrith, Roberts has tested the patience of the Broncos on numerous occasions since his arrival in 2016. His episodes generally involve excessive consumption of alcohol.
On the other hand, Lodge has not touched a stiff drink since the October 16 2015 - the night he lost control on Manhattan’s flash Upper West Side.
Lodge’s lengthy sobriety, in addition to work with younger players and disadvantaged youth - he toiled in a western Sydney soup kitchen after returning from the US in 2016 - have placed him in the surprising role of Roberts’ mentor.
Lodge is on a minimum wage contact worth around $100,000 at Brisbane this year, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll remain in Queensland beyond 2018.