The Hibiscus Coast Raiders rugby league club is feeling bruised by the penalties handed down by Auckland Rugby League (ARL) related to a massive brawl at the club’s Stanmore Bay grounds on June 30.
As a result of the brawl, which happened during a Sharman Cup game between the Raiders and Mt Wellington’s premier teams, a number of people were treated in hospital for moderate to minor injuries.
The ARL’s judicial decision includes ending the Sharman Cup premier season for both teams, as well as imposing a financial good behaviour bond on both clubs. This is despite the fact that only one Raiders player was sanctioned (for abusive language and behaviour) while four Mt Wellington players, as well as the team’s manager, had penalties imposed on charges that include striking, re-entering the field of play and bringing the game into disrepute.
Raiders chair Karen Gibbons says the club considers the findings unfair. Its appeal to the ARL was dismissed.
She says the club is the victim and so players cannot understand why they are being stood down from the last three premier games of the season, along with Mt Wellington.
“The players are saying ‘where is the ARL’s duty of care to us’?” she says.
Karen says the level of violence experienced during the brawl was shocking and the effects are still being felt, physically and emotionally, by Raiders players and supporters.
“A number of our people sustained injuries and even though injuries heal, the emotional side of what happened does not. One player is self-employed and is struggling with being off work for a month. Four only came off concussion recovery this week. We are known for being a family orientated club, who look out for each other. To have this happen has really rocked the members, who are pulling together to support each other.”
The ARL decision, released last month, shows that four Mt Wellington players have been suspended for varying lengths of time – the most severe penalty is a 12-week suspension for reserves player Mark Tuala.
The Mt Wellington team’s management was found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute. Its manager, Stephanie Kulitapa, was issued with a severe caution for failing to supply the names of players when requested by match officials.
A two-year good behaviour bond has been placed on Mt Wellington’s premier team and a one-year good behaviour bond on the Raiders team.
One Raiders player, Carl Heke, pleaded guilty to abusive language and behaviour and received a suspension, which elapsed on July 25.
Both teams have been suspended from competing in the premier grade of the Sharman Cup for the remaining two weeks of the season. Karen says although Raiders were near the bottom of the ladder, the point is that they should not have been suspended from the competition at all. She says this year was about building a base of talent with a lot of young players competing at this level for the first time and not being able to play the last three games has come as a huge blow.
A separate Police investigation into the incident is still underway. Two men, aged 27 and 26, have been charged so far in relation to the fight.
Karen says the club will look at what it can do after the Police investigation is finished.
ARL general manager Greg Whaiapu says the organisation takes it very seriously when games are called off and has a very clear policy process for matters of this nature.
“Thankfully these incidents are not common and are dealt with accordingly,” he says. “The clubs have been dealt with in accordance with our judicial process and all avenues of appeal have been carried out as well. Our clubs are aware of what penalties may apply when any of our bylaws have been broken.”
He says the ARL will monitor both clubs to ensure no further incidents of this nature occur again, and we will continue to strive to make our game the best it can be for all our players, coaches, and families.