http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/nrl- ... 0w7xr.html
NRL won't make Brisbane Broncos forward Matt Lodge pay damages to US victims
Matt Lodge will not be compelled by the NRL to begin paying off $1.6 million in damages to victims of his alcohol-fuelled rage in New York after the governing body declared it did not get involved in civil matters.
The NRL on Friday defended its registration of the 22-year-old's one-year contract with Brisbane as the lawyer representing Lodge's four victims told Fairfax Media they had not received a cent of the compensation the front-rower was last March ordered to pay them.
It emerged that the 118-kilogram prop, who has been described as a future NSW State of Origin prospect, personally fronted NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg and chief operating officer Nick Weeks to help convince them he met the code's fit-and-proper person requirement.
They were satisfied that he had spent enough time in exile from the competition since the incident in October 2015 and Lodge will on Saturday night make his first appearance in Broncos colours in a trial match against Gold Coast Titans at Toowoomba.
While the victims' Manhattan lawyer, Renan Varghese, was scathing of Lodge this week, saying "it's been clear by his actions in this case that he thinks he's above the law", an NRL spokesman confirmed that Lodge's civil liabilities in the US were not a consideration when it came to approving his contract with the Broncos.
Officials at League Central privately believe the victims are a better chance of recouping money from Lodge if he is thriving as a footballer and therefore earning a higher salary but the NRL has not demanded a commitment to pay them as a condition of his registration.
"We only make decisions based on football and behavioural matters," a spokesman said.
The NRL moved to explain the decision to allow Lodge, who played 12 first-grade games for Wests Tigers in 2014 and 2015, back into the game on the eve of his first outing for Brisbane.
"He spent more than two years out of the game and during that period he hadn't had any issues," a spokesman said.
"Once [the integrity unit] are satisfied that they're fit and proper they will register them as long as they've spent adequate time out of the game and have a propensity to rehabilitate.
"It was a serious incident but he rehabilitated really well and he's ended up being a really reformed person in the game."
Varghese, speaking on behalf of the victims – German tourist Carolin Dekeyser, New York couple Joseph Cartright and Ruth Fowler, and their then nine-year-old son – was reluctant to aim criticism at the NRL directly because he was not aware of the procedure conducted before registering players.
However, the lawyer added: "I would have hoped that they would have contacted us as part of the process."
The Lodge lawsuit is not the only US civil case with ramifications for an Australian player.
Jarryd Hayne has vehemently denied a claim brought against him in California that he raped a woman while he was in the US playing American football for the San Francisco 49ers.
If the NRL's position on Lodge is applied to the Hayne situation then the Parramatta back's civil matter, scheduled for Santa Clara County Court in April and which he plans to fight, would appear likely to be given little weight by the governing body.
The pending re-entry of Lodge to the NRL competition itself has drawn comparisons to the integrity unit's process in determining whether or not to register players who have spent long periods out of the game over their conduct or for criminal reasons.
Russell Packer was allowed to join St George Illawarra in 2016 having served a prison sentence for assault and this week the front-rower was named one of five co-captains of his new club Wests Tigers.
This year another high-profile player with a chequered past is bidding to mount an NRL comeback.
Former NSW five-eighth Todd Carney, who has returned from the Super League and joined Northern Pride in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup, has been linked with Manly, who are in the market for a playmaker after the departure of Blake Green to the New Zealand Warriors.
However, the message out of the NRL is there is little appetite to accommodate the 31-year-old because of the string of indiscretions and run-ins with police that marred his decade in the competition.
Sports lawyer Tim Fuller, a former first-grade player, believes that improvements could be made to the way in which such decisions are made so that they were less subjective and could be conveyed more transparently to supporters.
"I think there should be more structure to it," Fuller said.
"When you look at the way players are sanctioned and penalised for on-field misconduct...if you can grade on-field misconduct there is no reason why they shouldn't start to look at the same with off-field misconduct.
"It would take a lot of the guesswork out of the way they sanction players. Otherwise the average person out there just goes "how did they come up with that?"