The NSW Police’s anti-bikie unit, Strike Force Raptor, visited Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita on Wednesday to issue him a warning for consorting with a lifelong friend from Sydney’s west who is in jail.
Does anyone else see the absurdity of this sentence?
Fifita might not be the coldest can in the fridge. He’s proven himself a mug on and off the field on many occasions. He’s also bravely spoken publicly about his battle with depression and he’s a devout family man. He’s a complex and simplistic soul all in one.
But you are who you are. You never forget where you are from. Can he not visit a mate in prison who has made poorer choices than him without attracting a warning that if breached again could land him in jail for up to three years? (Channel Seven reported on Thursday night that the man in question is Kieran Loveridge, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail for his coward punch on Thomas Kelly).
Fifita is the latest player to be caught up in a clandestine attempt from the NSW Police and the NRL to change the very image of the game.
We have no doubt the stench of match-fixing has substance. We understand players can be groomed by bad men for their own nefarious means. If players fall into a honeytrap of drugs and gambling and prostitutes, they have themselves to blame.
But the constant slurring of the game’s image by telling players who they can talk to is taking the matter too far.
Corey Norman is a dope for trying to take illicit substances into The Star and sending lurid videos on social media – although he still somehow managed a contract upgrade at the Eels.
But if he and James Segeyaro and Junior Paulo want to have dim sims at the Golden Century restaurant with Nomad bikies and other underworld figures, good luck to them. If they want to have dinner with Al Capone, good luck to them.
If they break the law, they deserve whatever is thrown at them. Until the player breaks the law, he should be allowed to consort with whoever he wants. Maybe that’s me. Treat those as they treat you.
Which brings us to former Roosters recruitment man Peter O’Sullivan, who has been forced to stand down because of his relationship with controversial gambler and former brothel owner Eddie Hayson.
We will reserve judgement on this one but, privately, O’Sullivan has denied any wrongdoing, including betting on matches.
He has engaged leading Sydney lawyer Mark O’Brien to clear his name. O’Brien has acted in the past for Hayson. He is acting for West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle in his defamation action against Fairfax Media.
While Hayson has been linked to the Manly match-fixing investigation, he is yet to be charged.
So where does the NRL draw the line?
Will head office tell Kieran Foran he can only play next season if he completely disavows any loyalty to Hayson, who he was punting with at the Gosford dogs three weeks ago? Must Brett Stewart do the same thing? Any other player who knows Hayson?
And to that end what about those officials and player managers and coaches who mix with those who have been in jail or have underworld connections? And let’s not even start with who the journos are drinking schooners with after work.
The NRL needs to pick a consistent line on this. It needs to remember its players come from all manner of backgrounds, from all corners of the city.
Tigers’ dithering an insult to Farah
By the time you read this, Robbie Farah may have: a) signed with Souths; b) signed with Cronulla; c) signed with no club.
Hedging our bets? Yes. We’ve been hurt before.
Either way, the delay in Farah’s signing is another example of the poor way the Wests Tigers have treated a club legend.
Poorly treated: Robbie Farah. Photo: Getty Images
Having initially indicated it would pay another club upwards of $650,000 to take over the final year of Farah’s contract – which is worth $950,000 – the Tigers baulked at the 11th hour.
Given coach Jason Taylor has wanted the NSW Origin hooker gone for two seasons – which is his right, of course – stuffing Farah around the way it has is the final insult.
If the Farah deal is done at Souths as expected before the weekend, expect the injured 32-year-old to be given a farewell at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday when the Tigers meet the Raiders.
He deserves it.
Mystery still surrounds Bledisloe bug
Serious questions are still being asked about the so-called listening device allegedly planted in the All Blacks team room at their Sydney hotel before the first Bledisloe Cup match.
All parties involved remain cagey because of an ongoing police investigation into the discovery of a surveillance device inside a chair at the Intercontinental Hotel in Double Bay.
But as we understand it a confidential report from staff at the Intercontinental Hotel Group has raised questions that hopefully the NSW Police can answer.
The worldwide hotel chain is said to be furious about their reputation being questioned.
Snaped: All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen. Photo: Christopher Pearce
We’ve been told staff at the hotel repeatedly asked the All Blacks to refer the matter to police after the device was found on a Monday following a routine search by team security.
The police only became aware of the issue on Saturday – the day of the match – when the story was leaked to the media.
There is also confusion about when New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew was told by All Blacks management about the issue.
When Herald colleague Tom Decent raised this with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen after the match, he snapped that Tew was in Rio for the Olympics and they had been waiting for him to come to Sydney to provide a proper debrief.
Really? In this day and age of mobile phones and WhatsApp and Snapchat or whatever the kids use, he couldn’t be informed?
Anyhow … let’s hope the police can shed some light on all of this at some point.
Podium pressure too much for swimmers
Australia’s swimmers have launched a PR offensive since returning from the Rio Olympics, discrediting reports they were “elitist” and did not buy into Kitty Chiller’s “one team” philosophy.
So said Cate Campbell: “There were and have been no issues raised with the swim team. We’ve been a valued part of the [Olympic team]. I’m sure that you could ask anyone in the team.”
Well, we did.
This column was in Rio and spoke to several athletes during competition. They reported that some of the swimming team certainly placed themselves above others.
While this dynamic has existed in Australian Olympic teams for years, it particularly angered other athletes that some swimmers did not consider themselves accountable for their results.
In other words, some considered it unfair that the AOC and Chiller – the team’s chef de mission – had talked about medal counts, placing unfair expectation upon them.
As one high-profile Olympian told me, “That’s a cop-out. Stop blaming everyone else for your own performance”.
Indeed, elite swimmers might want to consider the expectation and heat placed on, say, professional footballers all year round and not just in an Olympic year.
An exception to this was Cameron McEvoy, who according to many within the village could hold his head high.
McEvoy refused to blame his failure in the 100-metre freestyle on illness, even though the other athletes reported he was far from well.
The football is the experience
Red and white banners are unfurled from the top of the stadium and passed down over your head, over the crowd and to the bottom.
About a dozen or more flares are let off around the ground. Fireworks explode overhead. A pipe organ plays a tune that whips the masses into a frenzy, not that they need the help.
There’s a plane flying through the smoke seemingly over the edge of the stadium, about to land at a nearby airport.
You can hear a drum throbbing at one end of the stadium as 62,000 River Plate fans throw one hand back and forth and back and forth in solidarity just minutes before their side is to meet Colombian team Independiente Santa Fe in the second leg of the Recopa Sudamericana final.
This was the scene your humble correspondent was confronted with last week at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires. In short, it blew my head off, and that’s not easily done considering the size of the head in question.
Football, of course, is religion throughout much of the world but the experience of a match in Argentina is a bucket list item for any sports fan.
As our tour guide explained as the bus snaked its way towards the ground, the fanaticism is on another level.
Argentinian fandom is usually split along the divide between River Plate and the legendary Boca Juniors, and before getting on the bus you are told to avoid wearing their blue and gold colours to avoid an “unpleasant situation”.
So angry did one elderly gentleman get at a match, he threw his false teeth at the referee. For this reason, every fan is searched for projectiles as they enter the stadium.
Apart from witnessing one of the dirtiest and most enthralling games of football I’ve ever seen, what stood out was the stadium experience itself.
Sydney and its sporting codes have twisted themselves in knots about the “game-day experience” and wagered extravagant bids for new stadia.
River Plate Stadium appeared to be untouched since it hosted the World Cup final in 1978. There is no backing on the plastic seats. The bloke in front didn’t sit down for the entire match. A handful of vendors weaved through the crowd with cups of flat Coca-Cola and cheeseburgers and it was more than enough.
The game-day experience is the football, aided by the huge personality of the crowd itself.
In the end, River Plate won 2-1. If there was a roof on the stadium, it would’ve blown off such was the reaction.
The sliver of a thousand or so Santa Fe fans were forced to leave first for their own safety. Perhaps knowing this, they menacingly made throat-slitting gestures at their counterparts while bringing down their banners.
And then, after the jubilant River Plate players were handed the Recopa Sudamericana trophy, they piled onto a fire engine that did a slow victory lap around the stadium. More flares were lit and more fireworks sparked. A plane flew overhead.
“Suck my balls. I will put my balls in your mouth. I will give you some money to make you feel good. Peasant.” – You stay classy, San Diego. You, too, Bernard Tomic.
The narks will unfairly remember Ben Creagh for his misunderstood Origin push-and-shove with Justin Hodges, but let’s hope the retiring Dragons captain is remembered for being one of the great club men and a fairly handy back-rower, too. Well played, mate.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sits down during the national anthem in protest for police brutality against African-Americans – a worthy cause, no? – and he’s widely pilloried, including condemnation from Donald Trump and Kaepernick’s own biological mother on Twitter.
It’s a big weekend for … the Storm and Sharks and Titans and Tigers as minor premierships and top eight places are decided on the final weekend of the NRL home and away season. Olympics? Pfffft.
It’s an even bigger weekend for … Winx, the mighty mare who in the Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick on Saturday is aiming for her 11th consecutive win. Only rain of biblical proportions can stop her.