Matt Lodge made his return to the NRL in Brisbane’s 34-12 loss to St George Illawarra in the 2018 season opener, but his place in the game was met by renewed questioning.
Lodge had not played in the NRL since his Wests Tigers contract was terminated in 2015 as a result of his violent home invasion in New York the same year.
He was arrested at gunpoint by New York police and avoided a jail term in the United States with a plea deal but was given a $1.5 million damages bill, of which the victims of his attack claim they have not received any payment.
Lodge was thrown a career lifeline by the Broncos, who along with the NRL have stood by the 22-year-old, arguing he has worked hard to turn his life around and deserves a second chance.
Australian women’s rugby league international Ruan Sims is among those uncomfortable with Lodge returning to the NRL.
Sims said although Lodge seemed “very remorseful” the NRL had opened itself up to accusations it was “rubber stamping” violent behaviour.
“I still don’t believe it’s a good look for our sport when we are so strong against violence against women, violence against children,” she told Grandstand.
Grandstand NRL commentator Andrew Moore does not believe Lodge should have been allowed back into the NRL.
“The handling of it has been very questionable and still the majority of people I speak to, including myself, don’t feel right about him playing in the NRL before he has paid his debt,” he said.
Lodge was booed by spectators at Kogarah Jubilee Oval throughout Thursday night’s match, while a knock-on from the front rower early in the first half drew loud cheers from the crowd.
He also threw a pass in the second half that was intercepted by former Bronco Ben Hunt, who ran 50 metres to score a try for the Dragons in his debut appearance for the club.
The Dragons scored five tries in total, with Tyson Frizell, Euan Aitken, Jack De Belin and Jason Nightingale also crossing the stripe.
James Roberts dotted down for both of the Broncos’ tries.
Tyson Frizell (L) scores for the Dragons as Corey Oates hurdles a Broncos teammate. (AAP: Craig Golding)
Hunt set up the Dragons’ first try when he grubbered out of dummy-half for the chasing Frizell, while his long kicking game was equally impressive in the opening half.
Just as positive for Dragons fans is the impact he already appears to have on their new-look spine.
Gareth Widdop looked dangerous running the ball in attack, and struck up a nice combination with young full-back Matt Dufty, who was as quick as ever through the midfield and on kick returns.
Hooker Cameron McInees looked improved on last year. He ran freely from dummy-half in the first half to finish with 48 metres from his five up-tempo carries.