Opinion: Matt Lodge's abrupt departure timely reminder, as NZ Warriors rebuild for future

Matt Lodge.
Matt Lodge. Photo credit: Photo - Photosport

OPINION: Arrividerci, Matt Lodge - don't let the door hit you on the way out.

As the powerhouse prop bids a premature farewell to NZ Warriors, it's hard to feel at all cheated or outraged by his lack of commitment to the club.

In fact, the overriding emotion at his departure is probably more relief.

Since his arrival at the Warriors midway through last season, fans have had to wrestle with their consciences over whether his much-needed power in the middle of the pack somehow outweighed the onfield and off-field baggage he carried with him.

In October 2015, Lodge was arrested and charged with assault, after allegedly threatening two German tourists in New York, pursuing them to their apartment and then allegedly attacking a man trying to help them. The charge was reduced to reckless assault as part of a plea deal.

He ultimately avoided jail time, but was ordered to complete community service, and undergo alcohol and anger counselling. He was also sacked by Wests Tigers.

After joining the Warriors from Brisbane Broncos last July, Lodge played three games, before copping a one-week suspension for contrary conduct. On his return, he was suspended two more weeks for a high tackle.

After his next outing, he overcame a dangerous contact charge and was allowed to play the Warriors' season-ending debacle against Gold Coast, but was sin-binned for a late tackle and subsequently missed the 2022 opener, while also paying a $5000 fine for raising his middle finger to Titans fans, as he left the field. 

At 1.91m and 117kg of prime beef, Lodge, 26, was heralded as the solution to a forward pack that had lost its starch and his signing - along with that of Addin Fonua-Blake - was supposed to bring the fear factor back to the Warriors.

He was lured there by father-in-law Peter O'Sullivan, whose own son was also on the roster, but when the former recruitment manager fell out with the club and left for the expansion Redcliffe Dolphins franchise, all eyes turned to Lodge for his reaction.

While teammates relished the physicality that made their job easier on the field, his presence made fans wonder about the questionable character of some recent Warriors recruitment targets.

Perhaps his best moment with the club was his incredible 80-minute effort against Penrith Panthers last July, as injuries decimated the playing line-up and left the interchange bench with no-one to replace him. 

In only his second outing for his new club, that performance should have won over the skeptics and made Lodge a folk hero, but he was sadly never able to build on it. The very next game, he reverted to form.

In retrospect, the relationship between Lodge and the Warriors was always likely to end badly, so last week's abrupt exit should come as no surprise.

Matt Lodge against the Raiders.
Matt Lodge against the Raiders. Photo credit: Photo - Getty Images

Two weeks ago, centre-turned-second-rower Euan Aitken also announced he would not relocate to Auckland next year, but agreed to play out this season, before finding another home.

Quizzed why the Warriors couldn't also persuade Lodge to stay on a few more months, coach Nathan Brown simply shrugged, admitting they could only shake his hand and wish him luck.

In fact, the Warriors could have insisted Lodge fulfill his contract, but probably decided it was better to cut him loose than have him sulking and bringing his teammates down around him. If he didn't want to be there, they were better off without him. 

Lodge will go down in club history as one of those high-risk-high-reward signings that never quite came off. Every sport has its villains that coaches or management think they can somehow harness for their benefit, when actually, are beyond reform.

Recently, Brown was questioned about the impending arrival of Newcastle Knights forward Mitch Barnett, who was serving a hefty six-week suspension for dangerous contact earlier this season.

"You can't win with 17 angels," quipped the coach.

While that may be true, hopefully, Lodge has taught the Warriors to be more careful about the quality of people they bring into their environment as role models for their young talent. 

If not, they get what they deserve.

Grant Chapman is Newhub's online sports lead. Join us at 5pm Saturday for live updates of the Warriors v Knights NRL clash.