Strip back all the off-field drama surrounding Matthew Lodge and concentrate on the player, just the player. He’s a good NRL level prop but not a great one.
Not someone who should command a massive salary on the open market.
It is little wonder that the Broncos are only now making the first tentative steps out of the worst few seasons in the club’s history given the multimillion-dollar long-term deal they threw Lodge’s way.
A contract which was taken on by the Warriors late last season and still had another two more years to run if he had taken up options for 2023 and 2024.
News that Lodge was granted an immediate release by the Warriors last week and is on the lookout for a new NRL club should cause nerves among the other 16 fan bases, including the Dolphins.
Based purely on on-field impact he is not worth any more than the going rate for a first-grade starting front-rower.
Nothing close to what the likes of Payne Haas, James Fisher-Harris and Addin Fonua-Blake are worth.
And then you throw in his NRL judiciary record and surely that’s hail damage on the bonnet for any CEOs kicking the tyres on this highly combustible conveyance.
He joined the Warriors with nine rounds to play last season and of the 19 available matches up until last week, he played in 14 of them. Lodge was banned for two games for a high tackle within a month of joining the Warriors and then after beating a dangerous contact charge at the judiciary to play in the final round, he then sparked a brawl in that game against the Titans, earning a one-game ban.
If not for the NRL wiping the slate for each player’s previous offences when they rushed through their new judiciary system for Round 1, he probably would have been banned another week or two for his dangerous contact charge in Round 8 when he elbowed Corey Harawira-Naera in the head.
To be fair to the forward, who turns 27 next week, he has not stepped out of line off the field since his controversial return to the NRL in 2018 after being deregistered for his infamous rampage in New York City which led to him being imprisoned in the notorious Rikers Island jail three years earlier.
There were many critics saying he should never have been allowed back after that infamous incident but to give credit where it’s due, he turned his life around to provide for his young family and has not put a foot wrong off the field since getting the green light.
He was highly touted as a young Wests Tiger when he entered first grade in 2014 – that year he also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons when he wrote a four-letter word on his strapping tape in a junior Origin game. For his part in a brawl in that game, Lodge copped a two-game ban but was selected at the end of that year for the Junior Kangaroos.
He’s made 79 NRL appearances since his return four years ago to be nine away from a century. But in that time he has not been mentioned in any credible conversations around being an Origin player so it’s bizarre to say the least that he attracted a top-dollar deal last time around and could end up with another lucrative deal.
Lodge has averaged 113 running metres and 21 tackles per game this season, broke just 18 tackles and made no line breaks across eight games while averaging 47 minutes.
Over the course of his career, he averages 49.1 minutes, 24.9 tackles, 132.5 running metres and 2.8 tackle breaks per game.
That puts him about level with someone like Sharks veteran Aiden Tolman, another long-term prop who never quite cracked the Origin arena. He averages 57.9 minutes, 35.6 tackles, 126.3 running metres and 1.2 tackle breaks.
Or another Blues near-miss in Broncos warhorse Ryan James – 59.7 minutes, 33.8 tackles, 101.9 running metres and 2 tackle breaks per game.
Compare that with Haas, the gold standard for props in 2022, who has racked up splits of 60.7 minutes, 34.7 tackles, 166.2 running metres and 0.9 tackle breaks per outing and those numbers are all tracking upwards.
At some point in your career you are the player who you are going to be. Unless he’s a late bloomer somehow ups his intensity and output in the latter half of his career, the ceiling for Lodge – if he curtails his constant suspensions – appears destined to be in the middle tier of front-rowers who don’t command salaries that could be mistaken for phone numbers.
The Warriors reportedly offered Lodge a three-year extension before Round 1 but he knocked that back. When he recently told the club he would not be taking up the option on his remaining two years, it didn’t take long for the parties to reach the increasingly common “mutual parting of the ways” which is the jargon du jour for image-conscious teams.
For a club that has somehow decided to sign Knights forward Mitch Barnett and Manly utility Dylan Walker despite less than flattering reputations on the field in Barnett’s case and off it, for Walker, then the Warriors have probably dodged a bullet on that front.
It’s better to be lucky than clever sometimes.
The prospect of Lodge joining the Dolphins has been bubbling away behind the scenes for several months given their recruitment chief, Peter O’Sullivan, is his father-in-law and the prop has a close relationship with coach Wayne Bennett from their time together at Brisbane.
If the Dolphins or any other club sign him for a standard mid-level deal he could prove to be decent value over the next few years.
But based on his on-field output and his ongoing propensity for getting suspended, clubs should not be splashing big cash for a player who has failed to reach any great heights or provided value for money throughout his career.