Player who pleaded guilty to assault charges booed on return

SYDNEY (AP) — A player making his return to the National Rugby League after pleading guilty to assault charges in New York City three years ago was jeered and booed Thursday on his return.

Matt Lodge endured an up-and-down first night of the season in the Brisbane Broncos’ 34-12 loss to St. George Illawarra. The 22-year-old prop was the subject of intense scrutiny for the past month after the Broncos signed him to a contract.

Lodge forced himself into a Manhattan apartment in October 2015 and assaulted a man while his wife and 9-year-old child hid. He said in a television interview this week that he was on sleeping pills and had drunk alcohol at the time, and he apologized to the victims.

But Lodge still owes more than $1 million in damages in the case, for which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor reckless assault charge. He avoided a 12-month jail term in the U.S. with the plea deal.

Lodge also said in the interview that he has reformed, but that did little to silence the critics who feel he should not be playing in the NRL.

One leading former coach said the Broncos and the NRL should withhold some of Lodge’s salary and pay it to the New York victims.

“The NRL should lead the way. They need to garnish his wage and make sure that (the victims are) starting to get some compensation,” Laurie Daley said this week.

Contract details have not been disclosed for Lodge, who played 12 games for the Sydney-based Wests Tigers in 2014 and 2015.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg has defended the league and the Broncos, saying he deserves a second chance.

“This young guy made a horrible mistake,” Greenberg said. “He has paid a significant price for that. I believe rugby league is part of the solution to help him turn his life around.”

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