Freddie explains Lodge Emerging Blues decision
NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler is ready to wear whatever criticism comes with him gifting Matthew Lodge a shot at representative football, stressing: "He doesn't deserve to be banned forever".
In a move sure to polarise NRL fans, 23-year-old Lodge was among a group of Emerging Blues players invited by Fittler to train at the NSW Centre of Excellence.
The decision - which even Lodge conceded was a "big call" - comes just 10 months after the Brisbane prop was controversially allowed back into the NRL following a horrifying 2015 assault on a New York family and two other women, the latter of whom he told 'this is the night you die'.
After signing on with the Broncos, Lodge's former partner Charlene Saliba also came forward with claims the footballer had been abusive during their relationship.
Indeed, even when Lodge last represented the Blues, as a NSW U/20s player in 2014, he made headlines for taking to the field with the word 'c …' written in black texta on his wristband.
Yet Fittler, famed for a strong 'No Dickheads' stance throughout his years as Blues and City Origin coach, insisted he had no problem giving a shot to the footballer who hasn't only been sober since the US incident, but also now works in community programs while raising a young son, Coby, with his partner Jess O'Sullivan.
"Nobody is happy with Matt's past but it can't be changed," Fittler said. "He knows that and now seems to be taking the right steps, with alcohol (bans) and other different things having plenty to do with his new way of life.
"I've never met him before but it will be good to sit and have a chat, see what he's about and see if he can maintain what he's doing.
"Because now, he's got to do it for life, doesn't he? And that's tough.
"Matt's obviously got a lot of stuff sorted out but sitting there and motivating yourself for a year, that's doable. But he has to now do it for life."
Asked if Lodge's actions of the past should have ruled him out of NSW Origin selection, Fittler continued: "Not forever."
And as for the flak his decision will no doubt receive in some quarters?
"You have to back what you believe," he shrugged. "Matt played pretty good this year and I think most people can see the potential that's there.
"He dealt with more pressure this year than anyone and seemed to handle it. That says a lot."
Asked why he thought Fittler had taken a punt on him, Lodge told reporters: "It was a big call from Freddy.
"I could never have guessed I would be doing media here. But like Wayne (Bennett), he's shown faith in me and hopefully I repay that.
"It was a tough road back but this is just a little stepping stone to a bigger goal but I'm grateful to be a part of it.
"Hopefully it encourages people who have done the wrong thing that they can get back."
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