7 Feb 2020

Too late for Super League to play morality card over Folau

11:18 am on 7 February 2020

Opinion - In 2009 rugby league player Greg Bird was found guilty of a charge of reckless wounding.

Australia's full-back Israel Folau lines up ahead of the international rugby union test match between England and Australia at Twickenham stadium in south-west London on November 24, 2018.

It's a bit rich that a Super League club is threatening legal action over Israel Folau's move to the Catalan Dragons after a long list of disgraced players have been signed by other Super League clubs over the years, writes Hamish Bidwell. Photo: AFP

The victim was his girlfriend, whose face Bird had smashed a glass into. Bird, a Cronulla, New South Wales and Australia player, was also found guilty of making a false accusation to police after claiming it was his flatmate who'd committed the act.

The Titans forward Greg Bird.

Greg Bird Photo: PHOTOSPORT

That same year, 2009, Bird appeared in court on a charge of common assault related to an incident with a different woman.

You might think that was the end of his career. Far from it, with Bird quickly signing a deal with the Northern Hemisphere's Super League club, the Catalan Dragons.

He eventually returned to play in Australia, for Gold Coast, where he was soon charged with cocaine supply. The club eventually released Bird after an incident in Byron Bay and he left for another stint in Super League.

Mind you, his rap sheet's nothing compared to that of Todd Carney. A series of clubs excused the playmaker's behaviour until vision of him performing the infamous 'bubbler' at a pub urinal saw Cronulla finally lose patience.

Super League was happy to have Carney though, where he went on to play for the Catalan Dragons, Salford, Hull Kingston Rovers and Warrington.

Former Cronulla playmaker Todd Carney.

Todd Carney played for several Super League clubs after being sacked by Cronulla for his appalling behaviour. Photo: Photosport

Warrington is the same club Joel Monaghan ended up at after a photograph of him and a dog in a lewd act ended up online.

You could go on and on citing the unsavoury characters who successfully sought refuge in Super League, after the NRL eventually grew weary of their behaviour. As a second-tier competition Super League seemed happy to take on any elite NRL player, no matter what their sins had been back home.

Until now. Yes, having welcomed all sorts of grubs to their competition, the Super League clubs have taken a stand.

Catalans' signing of sporting pariah Israel Folau has been reported as a step too far, particularly for Hull Kingston Rovers, whose chairman Neil Hudgell has said the club will take legal action should they suffer any financial or reputational harm as a result of the former Wallaby's move to Super League.

Most people would agree Folau is a fool. You can argue about his beliefs, as offensive and far-fetched as they are, but there's no doubt he's been exceptionally dim.

Like all of us, Folau can think what he likes. Unlike us, though, he agreed with Rugby Australia that he would keep those thoughts to himself.

A rugby league star, who signed a lucrative deal to play AFL and eventually ended up in rugby, Folau has only really hurt himself in the end. He had a successful career - and a relatively quiet and criticism-free life - and spoiled it.

And for what? No cause has been advanced by his condemnations of all and sundry or his daft ideas about bushfires.

Again, Folau can think whatever he likes. His crime is in giving voice to that nonsense.

But forgive me for not rushing to applaud Neil Hudgell and those whose support he says he enjoys. It's a bit late, and more than a bit rich, for them to start playing the morality card now.

Super League has poor track record

Super League's track record of giving safe haven to men who have done harm to others, even loved ones, is well-established and here they are now objecting to someone who wounds only with words.

I'm pretty free with my opinions and I get some pretty robust comments back. I deserve them. You can't dish that stuff out if you won't take it in return.

The harsh words have never bothered me, though. After all, it's not like they're sticks and stones.

Now here we have Israel Folau whose words appear to have caused hurt to a lot of people. More pertinent to his career, though, they've also made him unpalatable.

That's entirely understandable and it might get to the point where he's not welcome in any sporting code or competition. Again, he only has himself to blame and you don't imagine anyone has much sympathy for him.

In the meantime, though, it's just hard to forget all the other players Super League have been prepared to stomach over the years.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.