Unless NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg is considering a new career as a hypnotist he should never look into Matthew Lodge’s eyes again.
The NRL chief executive’s boast he could judge Lodge’s fitness to play in his competition by some self-styled form of ocular interrogation has been called into question.
An interview with Lodge’s ex-girlfriend, Charlene Saliba, published in the Sunday Telegraph is damning of both the Brisbane Broncos prop and an administration that must surely now consider whether it brought a player with two strikes against his name back into the game too soon.
You might adopt the tabloid style and call the accusations of domestic abuse levelled against Lodge by Ms Saliba, and supported by an assault conviction, as “shocking revelations”.
In the Sunday Telegraph report, Ms Saliba alleged the abuse by Lodge, “started with controlling behaviour, then name-calling, then came the emotional abuse, he started throwing things, physically restraining me, [he] spat in my face, then pushing and shoving me, which then led to threats to my life”.
However, rather than “blowing the lid” on the story, Ms Saliba’s words merely added credence to the whispers about Lodge’s conduct that have become roars since his New York victims spoke in detail about the night the 22-year-old randomly attacked and terrorised them.
That Lodge had pleaded guilty to a charge of common assault in May 2016 after his relationship with Ms Saliba made a mockery of the NRL’s oft-stated defence that he was being given a “second chance” with the Broncos.
It also brought to attention Lodge’s recent claim he had never, “hit any woman or assaulted any”.
The NRL claims it took into account Lodge’s assault conviction when it reviewed and granted his registration in November, although it has seldom, if ever, specifically mentioned this when asked about that process.
Similarly, in lauding its own investigation and Lodge’s apparent rehabilitation, the NRL has never talked about how much emphasis it placed on the impact on his victims. Or, for that matter, what attempts had been made to hear their stories.
Consequently, if any NRL official was to attempt to justify the rhetoric of the Women in League Round or the game’s posturing during White Ribbon Australia functions, there was no way Lodge could be welcomed back into the game so quickly after two incidents involving violence against women.
And this is not even considering the fact Lodge has not yet begun to pay the $1.6 million in compensation owed to the New York family he terrorised.
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
Almost as unsettling as the allegations made by Ms Saliba is that she felt compelled to speak out to correct the public record because of the image restoration of those protecting Lodge’s interest.
The campaign to justify Lodge’s registration has been strident, starting with absurd attempts to blame the media for failing to make more noise about his return to the NRL when it was confirmed in November last year.
Of course, this was well before Lodge’s New York victims had provided their graphic account of the trauma they experienced at his hands when he assailed a family in the foyer of their apartment building and a lone woman on the street.
Then there was Broncos’ coach Wayne Bennett’s blame-shifting. The veteran coach accused the media of pushing (unstated) “agendas” in their criticism of Lodge’s signing. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the spin cycle was turned up to full.
Earlier this month Fairfax Media published documents which provided evidence Lodge had undergone extensive rehabilitation since his rampage in New York.
These documents painted a picture of Lodge as a changed man, and in some ways countered the perceptions created when his New York victims spoke about their traumatic experience.
It could be argued the publication of the documents provided a valuable contribution to the debate about the Brisbane prop’s right to play in the NRL this season.
It is, after all, one thing for vested interests such as Lodge’s agent, coach and even NRL executives to make relatively vague assertions that the young player is “a changed man”. It is quite another to present proof that, from the perspective of the assembled healthcare specialists who have worked with him in the three years since the New York attacks, he had made substantial progress.
But rather than the documents themselves, what rankled in an otherwise worthy piece of public-record journalism was the assertion that, if only those now condemning Lodge’s registration had seen these documents earlier, no-one would be debating his right to play in the NRL.
Even to those who had been briefed on Lodge’s recent rehabilitation, this did not ring true. Now Ms Saliba’s allegations discredit the notion he should be welcomed back to the game with open arms if given every available fact about his conduct.
Meanwhile, the NRL Integrity Unit is reportedly investigating a case of racially related abuse by fans against South Sydney star Greg Inglis during a game in Penrith.
Rightly, if caught, the offending fans will be punished, perhaps banished from the game altogether and the NRL will pat itself on the back for taking immediate and assertive action.
This is how the game should act to protect its greatest assets, the players, as well as its own reputation.
But is the NRL willing to be as active and assertive in admitting they need to consider whether Matthew Lodge’s return to the game was grossly premature?