Penrith supremo Phil Gould has revealed Matt Lodge could be accepted back at the club in the future after the troubled forward revealed a desire to return to the foot of the mountains.
The lead up to Thursday’s season-opening game between Brisbane and St George Illawarra has largely been overshadowed by Lodge’s NRL comeback. Critics argue he has not shown an appropriate level of remorse or undergone the rehabilitation required following his infamous New York rampage. This despite Fairfax Media’s revelations that he has undergone counselling, worked in a soup kitchen and remained drug and alcohol free after the incident that threatened to end his promising career.
Lodge began as a Penrith junior before moving to Melbourne and Wests Tigers, both clubs sacking him for behavioural issues before the Broncos threw him a final lifeline.
In his Wide World of Sports column, Gould revealed he had secretly met with Lodge late last year and believes his return could be “a very good story for rugby league”.
“… he was asking whether or not they can ever be a day where he could return home to Penrith to play rugby league,” Gould wrote.
“I told him that he owed first option on his services to Wayne Bennett and the Brisbane Broncos who had assisted him through his rehabilitation processes and given him the opportunity to return to rugby league at Redcliffe. He agreed that that was the right thing to do.
“However, I did tell Matt that if any time in the future he was looking for a move back towards Sydney, and that provided he kept working hard on his rehabilitation and maintaining a healthy and honest lifestyle, that I would have no problem accepting him back at the Panthers as a part of our club.”
Lodge finally granted an interview to Fox Sports’ League Life program to give his side of the story. However, the league world remains divided over whether he should be allowed to return to the NRL after CCTV footage surfaced of his drunken rampage. His victim’s claim they have not received an apology or been offered a cent in compensation despite being awarded $US1.2 million following civil action. The 22 year old claims he has written an apology letter to the victims and that it is his intention to make amends for his actions. His return against the Dragons marks his first top-grade appearance since June, 2016.
Gould believes Lodge is a very different man to the one who come through the Panthers junior ranks.
“Suffice to say, he always seemed to be on a collision course with drama,” Gould said.
“He was difficult to engage. I felt that he had trust issues with people. He resented authority. Lectures on his behaviour simply washed over him like water from a duck’s back. He didn’t care for advice. He did not accept offers of help. As far as he was concerned, he didn’t need any form of counselling or assistance, he was in the right and he would live life his way.
“After speaking with Matt last year and listening to his story, spoken very honestly in his own words, I’m convinced this kid has changed.
“He was completely different during this one conversation, than at any other time I have ever spoken to him. There is no doubt in my mind that the shock he received from his arrest and jail time in New York, plus the vision of his drug and alcohol fuelled rampage on that fateful night, has been the catalyst to a significant change in his attitude to life.”