Brisbane Broncos’ principal sponsor NRMA Insurance has condemned the past behaviour of forward Matthew Lodge, describing it as “completely unacceptable”.
The company says it is “very concerned” about the impact of Lodge’s violence on victims and families.
“Matthew Lodge’s past behaviour is completely unacceptable and we are very concerned by the long-term impact this has had on his victims and their families,” an NRMA Insurance spokeswoman said.
Lodge is yet to pay for compensation to the victims of his 2015 drunken rampage in New York, and details have surfaced in recent days about his guilty plea for domestic violence.
NRMA Insurance said it was continuing to discuss its concerns with the club and the NRL.
“[We] reiterated today that we believe Matthew Lodge’s successful return to the game depends on his ongoing rehabilitation, which includes taking full accountability for his actions by compensating his victims in the US,” it said.
“We are disappointed that compensation is yet to be paid and we have told the club that our expectation is that they work with Lodge to ensure this happens.”
A spokeswoman for XXXX, another Broncos sponsor, said Lodge’s past behaviour “has been below the standards the community would expect”.
“The NRL and Broncos management have made the case for Matt to be given a chance to rehabilitate himself within the game and have assured all sponsors that they have a comprehensive management program in place in respect of Matt and also the entire team,” the beer company said.
Andrew Catsoulis, managing director of Broncos sponsor National Storage, said he has held discussions with Broncos CEO Paul White over Lodge.
“I believe that the appropriate authorities, including the Broncos organisation and the NRL, have fully investigated this issue and have made their own assessment of Matt’s fitness to play and it would not be appropriate for me to comment further,” Ms Catsoulis said.
Another sponsor, Ladbrokes, said it was not reassessing its sponsorship of the club, while Arrow Energy said it would not be commenting.
“They are a professional, well-run organisation and we will leave both they and the NRL to deal with the matter as they see fit,” a spokesman for Ladbrokes said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Broncos were role models in Queensland and it was an issue for the club to address.
“Those issues that have been raised are quite disturbing … I think they’re serious matters the Broncos need to address.”
‘Slapped, pushed to the ground’
An ex-girlfriend of the controversial Brisbane forward revealed details of her two-year relationship on Sunday, claiming she “lived the cycle of domestic abuse” before charges were laid in 2015.
Lodge was charged with eight counts of domestic violence against Charlene Saliba in August 2015 – of which he pleaded guilty to one and eventually had no conviction recorded with a good behaviour bond on appeal the following year.
Lodge’s guilty plea to common assault came after a neighbour allegedly saw him attack Ms Saliba, slapping her in the face and pushing her to the ground according to court documents obtained by News Corp.
Ms Saliba did not attend court, and the rest of the seven charges were dropped.
She said she feared the attention it would bring on her and was satisfied after an Apprehended Violence Order had been put in place.
The alleged incidents occurred just two months before Lodge’s infamous New York rampage, where he told a female German tourist “this is the night you die” before assaulting the man who came to her and a friend’s rescue.
Lodge has since pleaded guilty to a reckless assault charge over the New York matter, and owes $1.6 million in damages to his victims.
Broncos and NRL both aware of guilty plea
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the domestic violence matters related to Lodge were assessed by the NRL integrity unit.
“He spent a huge amount of time in counselling and rehabilitation, including a specific course around domestic violence and we made the decision to register his contract, and nothing that was written on the weekend was new information to us,” he said.
“The commentary on certain things in rugby league will always surprise me from time to time, but, again we make decisions that sometimes aren’t popular and will divide opinion and I understand that.
“This particular one goes to the core of my own personal values too. I thought long and hard about this, I deliberated on this for a long period of time.
“But like anything in life it’s not about punishment, it’s about rehabilitation and it’s about a game that tries to help others and I think rugby league that’s what it stands for.”
Brisbane Broncos CEO Paul White said the club took Lodge’s guilty plea into account and that the club had always taken the strongest stance against violence against women.
“When signing Matt, the Broncos were aware that the NRL took this matter into consideration when it mandated a range of work and courses that Matt was required to complete over a two-year period before he would be considered for a return to the NRL,” he said.
“Inside the last fortnight, Matt has also publicly stated that he in no way supports violence against women, and continues to work hard to improve himself as a member of society and within the NRL community.”
Ms Saliba claimed she felt the need to speak to the media after Lodge told Fox Sports in his only interview earlier this month he had “never hit any woman” before his return for the Broncos.
The News Corp report also cited police and court documents and detailed complaints of slapping, elbowing and threats that if she called the police her “life wouldn’t end well”.
“It started with controlling behaviour, then name-calling, then came the emotional abuse,” Ms Saliba said.
“He started throwing things, physically restraining me, [he] spat in my face, then pushing and shoving me, which then lead to threats on my life.”
Former Broncos captain Darren Lockyer said the weekend story about Lodge “wasn’t great reading”.
“It’ll be something that will be continuing to happen at the Broncos, his rehabilitation,” Lockyer said.
“I think he knows just as well as anybody else, he needs to do all the right things.”
‘Broncos need to address the issue’
LNP deputy leader and former NRL referee Tim Mander said the Broncos needed to resolve the serious issues surrounding Lodge.
“I think those issues do need to be addressed, that statements need to be made so it’s absolutely categorical that the Broncos don’t support that type of behaviour and nor do rugby league followers either,” he said.
“It’s obviously in their best interest, I think, and his best interest need to clear this up as quickly as possible.”
But he would not go as far as saying Lodge should be pulled from the field.
“Look that’s the tension with those things, I mean people do make mistakes in the past and you want to do everything possible to help them move forward but they have to acknowledge those mistakes and on occasions have to pay compensation for the mistakes that they’ve made.”