Tough new financial penalties introduced by the Newcastle Knights in a bid to curb poor off-field player behaviour have come under fire from players’ union officials who claim a “sledgehammer” approach won’t solve the problem.
Rugby League Players’ Association boss Ian Prendergast will seek a meeting with Knights CEO Phil Gardner this week to discuss the club’s new penalties in the wake of prop Jacob Saifiti being fined $50,000 [50 percent suspended] for being involved in an incident outside a Hamilton hotel in early December.
Saifiti was allegedly king-hit and knocked out and suffered a broken leg after falling to the ground with the man responsible subsequently arrested and charged with reckless, grievous bodily harm.
Saifiti was hit with the big fine following a hearing involving the club’s football committee just prior to Christmas with Gardner telling the Newcastle Herald early last week that players who fail to tow the line off the field could now face fines of up to 25 percent of their salary, suspensions or terminations depending on the severity of the incidents.
Knights players were told of the club’s new hard-line stance only a matter of days before centre Tautau Moga allegedly twice slapped a taxi driver outside a King Street licenced premises in Newcastle on Boxing Day.
Moga was charged with assault by police over of the incident last Friday and will face court on March 21.
Echoing the thoughts of the general public and just about everyone involved in the NRL, Gardner said it was time to come down heavy because “the game has had enough, not just us.”
“We’ve needed to lift the standards,” he said.
But the RLPA, who has been in contact with Saifiti and the NRL’s Integrity Unit, claim handing down big fines won’t fix the problem.
“The RLPA is as frustrated as anyone in terms of some of the player behaviour that we have seen,” Prendergast said.
“It’s our role to protect not only the interests of players but the game itself. So we are going to focus on that over the next 12 months in terms of the standards we set and holding each other more accountable.
“But we don’t believe handing down heavy fines is the answer to achieving that shift.”
Prendergast was reluctant to talk specifically about the Saifiti case because of confidential conversations with the prop but it is clear the RLPA believes the $25,000 fine imposed with a further $25,000 suspended, was too severe.
“We have concerns about players being fined 25 percent of their contract, particularly when we don’t think that’s proportionate to what’s occurred,” he said. “There are other things that can be done that would have a more meaningful impact.
“You’ve just got out a sledge-hammer to break a walnut and moved on. That’s why I think we need to be more sophisticated and more measured with how we approach these issues.
“We know Phil Gardner has said each case will be dealt with on its merits but imposing blanket 25 percent fines, albeit suspending half of it, in the case of the recent matter, is something we’ll be following up with the Knights.”