Rugby league legend Brad Fittler has admitted the game needs to improve the way it handles its wayward young stars, in light of the very public meltdown from Manly’s Addin Fonua-Blake.
It’s also alleged the 24-year-old launched a second tirade in the players’ tunnel after the match.
Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans came to the defence of his teammate, admitting he was also unaware of the sensitivity of the words Fonua-Blake used.
It’s not the first time Fonua-Blake has found himself in trouble. In 2015 he was stood down by St George Illawarra, and then had his contract terminated, after he pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend.
At the time Fonua-Blake said he needed to take ownership of his actions, for which he was fined $1000 and given a 12 month suspended jail sentence. He also admitted he had a drinking problem.
According to Fittler, rugby league has for too long turned a blind eye to youthful indiscretions, simply because of the player’s ability on the field.
“The game doesn’t have the depth that it would like, to be able to sort out people with respect issues and behavioural issues,” Fittler told Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and The Eighth.
“A lot of those players are our best players, sometimes we just don’t have the depth that we’d like to be able to deal with those people at a younger age.
“The coach would just say ‘let him go (because) he wins a few games for us’.
“Winning gets in the road sometimes of maturing. We all know that.”
Fonua-Blake is far from the youngest player to appear on the NRL scene. He made his first grade debut with Manly at the age of 20, and Fittler said a degree of maturity should be expected by that age.
“Addin’s come through that process. Addin started fairly late for his talent,” he added.
“He was a brilliant young player. It’s about getting that level of control and discipline.
“He’s had a bit of a checkered past as it is.”
The NSW coach added there was no excuse for Fonua-Blake’s outburst at Brookvale Oval.
“He did show an absolute lack of control, at a pretty fiery moment. He said some pretty damning things (that) a lot of people take offence to,” FIttler said.
“He most probably needs to go and put some soap in his mouth.
“The other thing is, he needs to get a little more respect.
“He demands a lot of respect on the field, he needs to get a little bit more respect towards referees and people that work hard in the game.”
Fonua-Blake’s action were put into some context by league Immortal Andrew Johns, who said he found himself in situations earlier in his career where he lost control.
The man who guided Newcastle to premierships in 1997 and 2001 said even as he got older the frustrations still sometimes got the better of him.
“I got into trouble for this a few times, for whatever reason,” Johns said.
“But I’d cool off and go off the field and think ‘what are you doing? Pull your head in.’
“You don’t do that, it looks bad.
“The later I went in my career, I tried to control it, but it still sometimes bubbled over.”
Johns said he could see why Fonua-Blake lost his cool on the field, but couldn’t excuse the language he used.
“I can understand Addin’s frustration, because they should have got a penalty, but what he said, you can’t defend that,” Johns said.
“But if it’s true that he goes off the field, cools down, and then gives him another massive spray, then that’s unforgivable.
“The one that happened on the field, do your time, but I can understand his frustration.
“When he’s cooled down, had his head on, if he’s ripped him again in the tunnel that’s unforgivable.”
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