Blues eyeing returning Broncos enforcer Lodge
NSW selectors will be keeping a close eye on Matt Lodge as he makes a miraculous return from a knee injury in tonight's resumption of the NRL.
On home soil at Suncorp Stadium, the enforcer will come off the bench for the Broncos against Parramatta as the hosts aim to avenge their 58-0, 2019 elimination final loss to the Eels.
Lodge wasn't expected to take any part in the 2020 season, let alone Round 3, after suffering a partial ACL tear during a training session at Red Hill prior to the opener.
Avoiding surgery, Lodge used the two-month coronavirus lockdown to get his knee right and was on Tuesday named on an extended bench.
While getting through unscathed for the Broncos - and ultimately leading their premiership push - will be his priority, Lodge has already been talked about in NSW discussions.
The prop, who turns 25 on Sunday, is yet to make his State of Origin debut but now has almost an entire season to put forward his case, with the series to be staged over three weeks in November, not during June and July, due to the COVID-19 crisis.
"Planning has already started ... chatting about players," Blues selector and Fox League analyst Greg Alexander said.
"There's a host of players that haven't played Origin that I'm sure will come into contention through what is a different way to do it.
"Players will have to get through 18 rounds and a final series before Origin is on.
"I dare say whatever side you're thinking about right now, touch wood it's not that different - but you'd think after 22 weeks of straight footy it will be different."
Part of the Blues' Emerging Squad in 2018, Lodge was close to winning selection during last year's series, which was won by NSW 2-1.
"Lodge has been part of the discussions for the last 18 months," Alexander said.
"He's a key man for Brisbane. You take Lodge out of that pack and it's not the same.
"He leads on the field for the Broncos.
"Hope the knee holds up."
Lodge could join fellow Bronco Payne Haas, 20, at season's end in tormenting the Maroons.
Topping 120kg, like Lodge, Haas was a revelation at club level last year and played reasonably well in the Origin opener before missing game two due to injury and failing to gain selection for the decider.
Haas, who will make just his 27th NRL appearance tonight in the game against the Eels, has a huge fan in Alexander.
"Payne is one out of the box," he said.
"Payne has the ability to be the best front rower in the game ... he's pretty close right now, with not much experience," he said.
"He's got the athletic ability, the speed, and the mindset.
"Lazo (Glenn Lazarus) is the best frontrower to play. I wouldn't say Payne's similar, but Payne can play big minutes, not like many frontrowers in the modern game.
"He's just one in a million."
Thomas Flegler will start in the No.8 for the Broncos tonight, and with Haas go head-to-head with another Blues hopeful in Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Samoan heavyweight Junior Paulo.