Does the Auva’a penalty send a strong message to players?

In light of Kirisome Auva’a’s ban it appears the National Rugby League are getting tough on incidents happening away from the playing field.

The governing body has got it right this time with an indefinite ban for the young South Sydney back after he pleaded guilty to charges of recklessly causing injury.  He will need to undergo counselling covering issues like violence against women, alcohol abuse and anger management. Auva’a may be eligible to return after twenty-two rounds of the 2015 season.

Over the years it’s been increasingly frightening the alleged incidents involving players and women.

Greg Bird was one that comes to mind from his days at Cronulla.  Bird was accused of glassing his girlfriend Katie Milligan in 2008.  He was stood down from the Sharks and originally sentenced to a maximum jail term of sixteen months but was granted bail pending an appeal.

Ben Barba was the face of rugby league in Australia when rumours surfaced about domestic violence on estranged partner Ainslie Currie when he was with Canterbury Bulldogs.  Former Bulldogs CEO and current Head of Football at the NRL Todd Greenberg failed to inform the Integrity Unit at the time about the allegations.

While talking on the subject of the face of rugby league, Brett Stewart’s charge with sexual assault of a seventeen year old girl in March 2009 saw him spend four weeks on the sidelines and a frosty reception with David Gallop on the dais of the 2011 Grand Final.

The one that’s most talked about is Robert Lui.  In 2012 he was placed on a two-year good behaviour bond, $2,000AU fine for assaulting his former girlfriend Taleah Rae Backo when playing for Wests Tigers back in 2010.  It was alleged that Lui tried to choke Backo who was pregnant at the time.  He was immediately stood down from the club, and subsequently banned in April 2012 for the remainder of the season.  One rugby league commentator at the time refused to mention Lui in his broadcast because of the incident.  Lui’s ban was at the same time Isaac Gordon of the Cronulla Sharks was suspended for nine matches for domestic violence.

Back in 2008 there was a scandal at Red Hill with an incident involving three Brisbane Broncos players and an alleged rape of a women in the male toilets at Alhambra Lounge in Fortitude Valley.  At the time the three players named were Karmichael Hunt, Darius Boyd and Sam Thiaday.

And it’s been a decade since the Bulldogs were involved in the infamous Coffs Harbour where six players were accused of gang raping a female.  Two Melbourne Storm players in the same year were accused on a similar front.  Cronulla went into meltdown during 2009 after it came to light that in 2002 that players and staff on a trip to New Zealand were involved in group sex with a woman in a hotel room.  Five days after the incident the woman approached police.

The Auva’a incident and subsequent penalty reignites the debate about appropriate sentencing for players who are found guilty of domestic violence.  Former Bronco and Queensland Origin forward Sam Backo for one has voiced his concern that the ban was too light and that a five year ban would have been appropriate.  Domestic violence campaigners would say the only way to deal with the problem is a permanent ban.

So what is the appropriate sentence?  Maybe somewhere closer to Backo’s five year ban could be appropriate.

South Sydney will be careful to send the right message to their huge supporter base that they don’t tolerate domestic violence.  Auva’a’s sentence is similar to Lui’s 2012 ban in length.  Lui appears rehabilitated as he continues his career in the far north.  You would hope that the same goes for Auva’a.  But he may need to move clubs like Lui to restart his career.

It’s correct to say that a high percentage of players do the right thing and stay out of trouble.  But it’s those five-percenters that damage that get splashed on the back of newspapers and bring down the image of the game.

Today it was revealed that Isaac Luke looked set to controversially write Auva’a’s name on his wristband for the Four Nations Final against Australia in Wellington until the Rabbitohs hooker had second thoughts.  It was quite clear that Luke was supporting his team mate but the decision was poor as it could be seen that by supporting his mate, he was supporting domestic violence.

The National Rugby League are on their way to addressing the issue of domestic violence but there’s still a fair way to go to send the right message to the fans that the culture can change.

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