The plan is to take the family under the wing of the NSW team. If they want to. ‘‘Nothing we can do is ever going to be enough,’’ Fittler said. ‘‘But we will do whatever we can. I watched that family – at first it was sadness and I was struggling to work out how they would cope, then it was in awe.
‘‘You only get one chance to react to anything. The way the father of those kids and the mum responded to something that they should never had to have dealt with in their lives was just remarkable. The strength they showed at a time when they were entitled to collapse was just incredible.’’
Fittler has come a million miles from the fun-loving larrikin to the man he is today. ‘‘I’m in a position where I can help,’’ he said. ‘‘I coach a team for a few weeks every year – and for the other 45 weeks of the year I can try and do some good and that’s what I’d like to do through the Blues this year.’’
In recent times the Blues have helped victims of the summer’s bushfires: they went to Taree and got down and dirty. And last year Fittler and advisor Greg Alexander threw their support behind an anti-drink-driving message. Which brings us back to this awful reality. ‘‘What the f— is going on with people drinking and driving?’’ asked Fittler. ‘‘It seems to be happening more and more. It’s time people learnt.’’
Wheels have already fallen off NRL’s banned wagon
The NRL’s decision not to impose a penalty on Broncos forward David Fifita has boxed it into a corner that has left its crackdown on off-field behaviour in a mess.
Fifita, you’ll recall, was filmed in a Bali police cell after being arrested for allegedly assaulting a nightclub security guard in November. Despite the damaging images of a star player behind bars – and the fact that Fifita paid a $30,000 settlement to the alleged victim – the NRL said it did not have the evidence to suspend him.
Mitchell Pearce’s eight-week suspension and $125,000 fine following his drunken 2016 Australia Day incident was based on bad PR. And Pearce only harmed himself. After a six-week investigation, the NRL found Fifita had done nothing wrong. The decision even stunned those on the Australian Rugby League Commission, who had expected a lengthy suspension.
The NRL is still patting itself on the back for the way it announced the Fifita decision just a few days before Christmas to minimise scrutiny. The problem for the NRL is that every single club is watching. They are telling me as much.
The decision has made it almost impossible for chief executive Todd Greenberg to honour his vow that players would face severe consequences if they stepped out of line during the off-season.
I’m hoping to sit down with the NRL and hear why Fifita got off without a penalty. I’ll be happy to detail their explanation if I get printable information.
In the background to all of this, Jack de Belin has missed a year of football, and may miss another, and his aggravated sexual assault case still hasn’t been heard.
We now have a situation where some players who were in the headlines during the off-season for the wrong reasons are back playing, while others will be back on the field in the next few weeks. Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Bali brawl) will be playing in round one of the NRL premiership, while Fifita is already in Perth playing in the Nines.
Despite its promise to be particularly tough on offences involving women and children, Maika Sivo is playing in the Nines for the Eels, even though his indecent assault charges are still pending. Tyrone May, who narrowly avoided jail for his role in the sex tapes scandal, will be back playing for the Panthers by round five, with the NRL arguing he spent enough time on the sidelines while his case was in court.
Even Curtis Scott is a chance of playing in round one, depending on what the video footage reveals about the incident that resulted in him being tasered by police outside NRL HQ on Australia Day.
We will also soon know how seriously the NRL views drink-driving when it hands down a penalty, or not, for Joe Ofahengaue, who pleaded guilty to driving under the influence after being found asleep in his car while drunk.
There is a growing push among the clubs for off-field incidents to be dealt with by an independent body. It would eliminate the perception that powerful clubs, such as the Broncos and Storm, are treated leniently. It would also enable matters to be heard publicly and for transparency when sanctions are handed down.
Unless this change is made all players accused of off-field indiscretions can simply ask the NRL whether their case was more damaging than that of Fifita’s. If not, they should escape a penalty.
Coach not poach
Phil Gould’s phone has been ringing off the hook since we revealed in this column last week his plans to become a player manager. He has been inundated with requests, mainly from people wanting to partner up with him.
Gould has made it clear that he won’t be taking anyone’s business. ‘‘I’m starting from scratch,’’ he said. ‘‘I want to look at young players and work with them. I won’t be poaching players from other managers. ‘‘There is an avenue for our company to start with signing young talent and going from there. My main focus will be the players’ welfare and education. I want them to have a plan B, because not every player makes it. And then for the players who do make it we need to have the resources and people in place to make sure that they make the most of what they do.’’
Josh Morris is more determined than ever to leave the Sharks due to the way they reacted to his request for a release. His management didn’t get a reply from the club – instead they learnt the request had been rejected in the media.
The signing of Jesse Ramien is what tipped Morris over the edge. As a top-level centre for more than a decade, he was having to compete with Ramien and rising star Bronson Xerri, and felt he was no longer needed at the club. His twin, Brett, has indicated the pair still hope to play at the Roosters together. He clearly wouldn’t be saying that if there was no interest from the Roosters.
No love lost
It was quite ironic that former business partners turned fierce enemies Isaac Moses and Joe Wehbe were back in court on Valentine’s Day. In the end, it will be interesting to see what long-term effect the split has on Moses’ business, particularly given he is being investigated by the NRL.
Rabbits in spotlight
With the actual league season about to start, we should enjoy every moment of legendary Channel 9 commentator Ray Warren. We can reveal at the end of last season Channel 9 was bracing for ‘‘Rabs’’ to call it quits. But fear not, league fans have at least one more season to enjoy Warren’s work.
Danny Weidler is a sport columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.