WHO would you rather have sign - or never sign - for the NRL team you support: Matthew Lodge or Israel Folau?
That's the question Sporting Declaration has been pondering this week amid reports that the Newcastle Knights are poised to recruit Lodge, providing they can negotiate a mutually agreeable release from the Broncos.
Looking at it from a pure footballing perspective, it would appear a shrewd move by the Knights.
Lodge is reportedly earning $800,000 a year at Brisbane, yet Newcastle officials are understood to be aiming to snare his signature for around half that amount, leaving the Broncos to subsidise the rest of his salary.
In other words, the Knights could pick up one of the highest-paid forwards in the NRL at a 50 per cent discount.
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From a financial/salary cap viewpoint, it's almost a no-brainer, and adding Lodge to David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti and Jacob Saifiti would give Newcastle a front-row rotation that most clubs could only envy.
Yet I would be interested to know what percentage of Knights fans are in favour of the proposed deal proceeding.
Newcastle Herald reader Dave Fothergill voiced his opinion on the letters page earlier this week, and he didn't bother with any sugar coating.
"If the rumours are true that the Knights are signing Matt Lodge, I will never go to another game again," Fothergill wrote. "I've been a member for 20 years and been there through many a roller coaster of emotions.
"[Knights coach Adam] O'Brien says we need to get the culture right and to recruit a person who committed an atrocious act is beyond a contradiction."
Fellow reader Greg Hunt offered a contrasting view later in the week: "It'd be a sad old world if a young bloke was denied a chance to get his life back on track after what was, admittedly, a very serious error of judgment."
Lodge, of course, gained notoriety in 2015 for a drunken, prescription drug-fuelled bender that resulted in him terrorising a young family in New York and being arrested at gunpoint.
He was de-registered by the NRL for almost three years and allowed to return only after completing an exhaustive rehabilitation program and convincing the powers-that-be he was a reformed character.
Just as disturbing as the New York incident - although perhaps not as widely publicised - is the fact that in 2015 Lodge was arrested and charged with eight domestic violence-related offences involving his former girlfriend.
He subsequently pleaded guilty to one charge of common assault and was sentenced to a two-year good behaviour bond without a conviction being recorded.
According to a Sunday Telegraph report, Lodge subjected the woman to "vile verbal abuse, stalking, intimidation and physical attacks that included grabbing her, elbowing her face, smashing her head into a car roof and hitting in her in the face hard enough that she fell to the ground".
Lodge would later claim he "didn't want to plead guilty" but was advised to do so by his barrister, because otherwise the legal process was likely to "drag on for a long time".
Whatever the case, he has since grabbed the second chance many argued he did not deserve and resurrected his career at Brisbane.
Having sworn off alcohol and stayed out of trouble, on and off the field, he has repaid the faith entrusted in him.
The Knights have clearly weighed it all up and decided the 25-year-old is worth signing, even if that decision is not universally welcomed.
"He had a chequered history up until then. But to think that people don't deserve employment because of what happened years ago, which they have already paid a price for - that would be hard for us to understand."
Lodge has undeniably paid his dues. As well as the long process of proving he was a fit-and-proper person to return to the NRL, he reportedly reached a $1.6 million settlement with the family he traumatised in New York, taking out a bank loan to cover it.
The heavyweight prop is far from the first player to redeem himself after being convicted of a serious crime. Russell Packer, Danny Wicks and Zane Tetevano all made it back to the NRL. Jarrod Mullen still hopes to do likewise, aged 34.
And that brings me to Folau, who by all accounts is now being funded by Clive Palmer to have a run with Southport Tigers in the Gold Coast competition.
Some may say that's where he belongs. Out of sight and out of mind.
Other than speculation linking him, briefly, to St George Illawarra, NRL clubs have given Folau a wide berth. But the towering outside back is only 32 and should be injury-free after hardly playing for the past two years.
Up until his moments of madness on social media, he had been arguably Australia's most influential rugby union player and one of the best in the world.
Yet will Israel Folau ever be offered the same second chance in the NRL as Matthew Lodge and company?
The Knights could definitely use a right-side centre.
Just tossing it out there.
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