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'I've never had a front-row mentor': Why Lodge is thriving at Roosters

As he prepares for his 100th NRL appearance in Sunday’s elimination final against South Sydney, Matt Lodge has revealed that the key behind his career best form at Sydney Roosters is finally finding a front-row mentor.

Lodge, who joined the Roosters in July, has now played for six clubs after starting out in under 20s for the Panthers and Storm before making his NRL debut with Wests Tigers in 2014.

It’s been a rollercoaster career - overshadowed by the fall-out from his well-documented 2015 incident in New York - but at 27-years-of-age Lodge is finally living up to the potential that ensured so many in the game were willing to give him another chance.

The reason, Lodge believes, is because he is free of the responsibilities that weighed him down at the Broncos and Warriors, with Kiwis prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves taking him under his wing at the Roosters.

Lodge breaks try drought

“I don’t know why but that is something I probably missed out on,” Lodge said. “I was 23 or 24 when they asked me to captain the Broncos, and I shouldn’t have been doing that.

“We lost a lot of our senior players in Brisbane and I kind of got thrown into it but it’s not my go, so it’s good to have so many leaders here at the Roosters.

"No one is asking me questions and I can just focus on my job and making my own game better.

“I am really enjoying it and I have got that feeling again where I want to impress some of the people I am playing with because they are older, and you want them to earn their respect.”

After convincing Roosters coach Trent Robinson that he was worthy of a short term deal following his reluctance to sign him previously, Lodge has impressed team-mates with his attitude and work ethic.

Despite an ongoing rivalry with Waerea-Hargreaves whenever he had played the Roosters, Lodge hit immediately hit it off the with the Kiwis enforcer, who took him under his wing at a training camp on the Central Coast.

“He reached out straight away and offered to help me,” Lodge said.  “I haven’t really had a front-row mentor since I came into the NRL, so I am soaking it all in. We spent a fair bit of time together hanging out.

“We have played each other a lot in the past and he is an aggressive player, and so am I, so we have had a few goes at each other, but from the minute I got here he was just like, ‘how are you, if you need help with anything, if you don’t understand anything’ … he just put his hand up.

“He is pretty professional in the way he prepares but he is a fun guy too and that makes you enjoy playing. I am having fun with him, and he is looking after me. He is a great team guy.”

Waerea-Hargreaves has taken Lodge under his wing
Waerea-Hargreaves has taken Lodge under his wing ©Chloe Davis/NRL Photos

Roosters captain James Tedesco had previously played with Lodge at the Tigers but he said many of the club’s other players were surprised by how good a player he is.

“He’s a very smart footy player, which I don’t think many people know, and he’s continually got better and better so it’s awesome to see,” Tedesco said.

“Everyone’s realising now what a good front rower and player he is so I think he’s been awesome for us.

“He’s always looked up to Jared as a front rower, that’s who he sort of based his game around, and now he’s got the opportunity to play with him.

“I think they’ve become really close, as well, so he’s loving being under Jared’s wing and to have those two going after it together, gives us a lot of confidence.”

Lodge is playing arguably his best football at the Roosters
Lodge is playing arguably his best football at the Roosters ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

After a falling out with Warriors owner Mark Robinson, Lodge felt he needed to leave the club but he couldn’t have envisaged how comfortably he would fit in at the Roosters.

“It was a quick exit from where I was, but I lost the heart for whatever reason off the field,” he said. “It had nothing to do with the playing squad and I didn’t want to lose the respect of the playing squad so once it was over, it was over.

“For whatever reason outside the playing group there was an unwanted feeling and once that creeps in you just have head noise, and that had been happening for a while.

"At Brisbane, it was like ‘you’re wanted, you’re unwanted’. ‘We want you, we don’t want you’.

“That takes a toll, but from the minute I got here, everyone – even in the office – put their arm around me and made me feel welcome, and I knew I would be looked after.

“I have learned that that’s in my personality type. I need that to want to perform and put my body on the line. I really respect this place and all the people I am playing with.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Sydney Roosters respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.