The last time Matt Lodge played St George Illawarra, the controversial Brisbane prop was booed every time he touched the ball.
But Lodge expects cheers instead of jeers when he makes his long-awaited finals debut in Sunday’s NRL elimination final against the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium.
Lodge, 23, has emerged as the leader of Brisbane’s pack after snapping up a 2018 Broncos lifeline in the wake of his infamous 2015 New York drunken rampage.
The early signs weren’t good when Lodge was heckled by a fired up Jubilee Oval crowd in his official NRL return – Brisbane’s underwhelming 34-12 season-opening loss to the Dragons.
However, Lodge expects a very different reaction the next time he tangles with St George Illawarra.
Lodge has won over hard marking Broncos fans in an impressive return from four years in the NRL wilderness that looks set to earn him a lucrative new deal.
“It is one of the better feelings,” Lodge said of being cheered at Suncorp Stadium.
“It’s a lot better than going down to (Dragons)…and getting booed. I love having the crowd behind me.”
The crowd reaction won’t be the only thing that has changed since round one.
Lodge said a very different Broncos would be waiting for the Dragons after snapping up sixth spot and a home final with three straight wins.
“It wasn’t a good night (round one loss) but it is a long time ago and we’ve been building nicely – hopefully it will be a different result on the weekend,” Lodge told Broncos TV.
“There’s a bit more belief in the group. We just know that if everyone turns up we will get the job done.
“But to get to a home final is a massive boost, there’s nothing better than playing at Suncorp with a full house.”
Lodge was pinching himself now that his long wait to play finals was nearly over, four years after he made his NRL debut with Wests Tigers.
‘It’s what I have worked for the last few years. It’s good to finally be here,” Lodge said.
Now the hulking prop has been embraced by the Broncos fans, Lodge hopes to give them a bit more to cheer about after working on combinations with five-eighth Anthony Milford.
They provided a taste in last round’s 48-16 thumping of Manly.
Instead of taking the game’s opening hit-up, Lodge passed to Milford who sliced Manly up the middle and threatened to score before being brought down.
“Some would advise not to pass off the kick-off but when it is on, it is on,” Lodge laughed.
“As long as it works he (coach Wayne Bennett) is happy.”