'No handbrake': Lodge relishing NRL return with Manly

As he prepares to mark his return from an ACL injury, Manly prop Matt Lodge is showing no signs of timidness as he urges the Gold Coast to send the ball his way off the opening kick-off. 

Lodge has spent the best part of 10 months on the sideline but is expected to come straight into Manly’s starting pack as they meet the Titans on Saturday.

Coach Anthony Seibold has been forced to turn to Lodge as the Sea Eagles cope with the loss of Josh Aloiai (suspension) and Toff Sipley (knee). 

It’s a challenge Lodge has no trepidation about embracing as Manly bid to strengthen their grip on a spot in the top eight. 

“I’ve been training pretty hard, doing full contact, and I’ve been running against the NRL (team) lately,” Lodge said. 

“I was always going to come back this week but how it’s worked out with losing a couple of front-rowers, ‘Seibs’ has asked me to start.

“I’m comfortable doing that, I’ve been doing it since I was 18. 

“Hopefully (my first involvement) is the kick-off, no handbrake - otherwise all my mates will be straight into me. 

“I’ll go full throttle and hopefully it works out.”

Manly showed Lodge a great deal of faith by offering him an extension last year when he went down with injury.

Lodge is keen to repay that trust and the 28-year-old is equally buoyed by Manly’s development into a side that has matched it with the competition’s best packs.

Forward depth was often the Sea Eagles’ Achilles heel but since the start of the season they have knocked over the Sydney Roosters and Penrith and held their gloves up in a draw away to the Warriors last weekend.

“We’re at a good point where we are realising we can be a big aggressive pack to come up against,” he said. 

“You’re seeing that through some of the boys’ performances and it’s been unreal to watch that transition.”

As Lodge returns to first-grade action, Josh Schuster’s continued absence from Manly continues to be a subject of interest.

Schuster has been given a two-week break from the club after the Sea Eagles signalled their readiness to release the Samoan international from his contract after failing to hit performance clauses.

Veteran prop Aaron Woods is hopeful the time away from the NRL can help Schuster work out his next steps. 

“I sent a text to see how he was going,” Woods said. 

“He’s got time off and a few issues - not just footy - that he needs to sort out.

“Where he is at with the club I have no idea but he can reset the mind and get himself going again.” 

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