NRL 2021: NZ Warriors CEO Cam George dismisses concerns over controversial new signing Matt Lodge

NZ Warriors chief executive Cam George is confident new signing Matt Lodge's chequered past is firmly behind him, insisting his addition is all about "forward thinking".

The 26-year-old prop has agreed to terms on a two-year deal, effective immediately, after being granted an early release from his contract with Brisbane Broncos.

The signing has caused considerable conjecture among the Warriors fanbase. While Lodge's on-field talent is undeniable - a blockbusting front-rower with a relentless motor - he brings some dark baggage with him to the Warriors.

In 2015, the Australian was arrested and charged with assault in New York City, after threatening two German tourists, then forcing his way into their apartment building, where he assaulted a man who had come to their aid.

He then broke into the man's apartment, where he destroyed furniture and attempted to smash down a door to a bathroom, where the victim's wife and son were hiding.

Charged with felony burglary causing injury, Lodge entered a guilty plea and avoided a jail sentence by completing 200 hours of community service in Australia, receiving treatment for alcohol abuse and anger, and abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

The incident saw Lodge sacked by his Wests Tigers team, before he made a return to the NRL on a one-year deal with the Broncos in 2017.

Warriors chief executive Cam George.
Warriors chief executive Cam George. Photo credit: Getty

The NRL was widely criticised for allowing Lodge to rejoin the competition, as more allegations emerged from his former partner, who accused him of being abusive during their relationship.

George says he and club stakeholders had done their due diligence on Lodge, and believe the Sydney native has clearly turned over a new leaf in his life, pointing to his incident-free tenure with the Broncos.

"At the end of the day, it happened in the past," George tells Newshub. "We're very aware of the circumstances and understand the history, but we're a forward-thinking club.

"We're not trying to give Matt a second chance, he's already had that. The NRL deemed him a fit and proper person to come back into the NRL back in 2017.

"He's been playing with the Brisbane Broncos for the last three years and hasn't put a foot wrong.

"You've got to look forward... we're trying to build a winning footy team. We're trying to build a club that's going to have high standards and be competitive at the highest level.

"We're very comfortable with our decision. Our stakeholders, sponsors, we've all had these discussions with them. 

"Everyone's embracing the opportunity to help Matt enhance himself and his young family in New Zealand."

George dismisses any suggestion Lodge doesn't fit within the Warriors' proud family-centric culture, which he thinks will only result in further positive growth.

"Everyone talks about culture. What we can do is know him and back our culture to do what's right for people when they come to our club, and I think Matt will benefit very much from being in our club.

"But also I just want to reiterate that we're a forward-thinking club and it's about the future for us."

The Warriors have often struggled to compete with rival clubs to secure elite Australian talent and securing a player of Lodge's calibre on a deal George describes as "very salary-cap friendly" could be seen as a coup for the Auckland club.

The Broncos are believed to be covering almost half of Lodge's $850,000-per-season contract for its remaining three years.

That represents superb value for the Warriors, with relatively minimal impact on its salary cap for a forward who will add plenty of starch to its rapidly growing pack.

Lodge has averaged 129 run metres and 25 tackles per game in 12 appearances for the struggling Broncos this year in a stellar comeback from an knee-ligament (ACL) tear that sidelined him throughout 2020. 

"Whatever deal he's done with [the Broncos] has certainly aided us in doing a very attractive deal for our club," says George. "It's very salary-cap friendly and we're really comfortable with the decision we've made in that respect.

"When you look at the make-up of what we've got there now, there's some really good footy within the forward pack. There's size, there's aggression, and that's something that our young backs and speed we've put into the squad now will certainly benefit from over time.

"It's about seizing the opportunity when they become available in the best interests of your club."

As it stands, there are already some familiar faces to Lodge at the Warriors. Recruitment manager Peter O'Sullivan is the father of his partner, Jessica, whose brother, Sean O'Sullivan, is a contracted player.

George rejects the implication of a conflict of interest in acquiring Lodge, claiming O'Sullivan had played no part in the deal.

"I did the whole negotiations," says George. "Peter O'Sullivan is here to build a club to win footy games, that's what he'll be measured on... and he's doing a great job.

"There's no way shape or form that a player of Matt's quality should be disadvantaged by his family connection to our club. In fact, conversely, you could say that'll probably help him.

"We're trying to build a club and there are plenty of examples at other clubs that family connections can work in your favour."

Not named in the game day squad on Tuesday, Lodge isn't eligible to play for the Warriors against St George Illawarra Dragons on Friday, but should make his club debut the following weekend against Cronulla Sharks.

He joins a growing list of recent acquisitions that includes former Warriors star Shaun Johnson, former NZ Kiwis captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, temporary halves reinforcement Chad Townsend and promising Melbourne Storm forward Aaron Pene.

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