The Kangaroos, Australia's national Rugby League team is about to begin a four nation’s tour of the UK but Andrew Fifita won’t be with them.
Michael Carey

21 Oct 2016 - 11:41 AM  UPDATED 21 Oct 2016 - 11:41 AM

The NRL says the Sharks grand final hero was excluded from the representative side because of his “off-field” issues and he says he’s ready to walk out on rugby league.

Fifita remains the subject of an NRL Integrity Unit investigation over his support for jailed one-punch killer and childhood friend, Kieran Loveridge, amongst other misdemeanours.

Todd Greenberg, NRL CEO said, "We believe to wear the Australian jersey, you should have to distinguish yourself both on and off the field."

I've have never met Andrew Fifita and he appears to have some unpleasant friends but he should be with the team - to omit him is hypocrisy.

If he was good enough to play throughout the year and in the Grand Final then he should have been with the Kangaroos in the pre-tournament match last Saturday against New Zealand. As far as I’m aware he hasn’t been convicted of any offence, so he should be taking the field in the green and gold on the team’s trip to the UK.

However, for Parramatta’s Semi Radradra the league has probably made the right decision this time.

Despite domestic violence charges having been laid against him in July, only a month ago, the Eel’s winger was selected to join The Prime Minister’s XIII on tour in Papua New Guinea to fly the NRL flag and apparently promote the message, “Strong Men Respect Women”. According to NRL CEO Tod Greenberg, Radradra was omitted this time not only because of those charges but because his hearing is approaching.

"In regards to Semi Radradra, I'm sure you will all be aware that he faces serious charges to be heard at the end of the Four Nations tournament.

"We don't want him or the team to be distracted by this case and we think Semi should devote all his time and energy to this legal matter."

In the Fifita case the decision doesn’t seem to be as clear cut and appears to have been driven by public relations constraints rather than merit alone.

Just before the finals series began, Andrew Fifita was officially warned against consorting with a convicted criminal. Members of the NSW Crime Command’s, “Strike Force Raptor” went to Fifita’s home to lay down the law. Police at the time would not comment on when the consorting occurred or with whom he had consorted.

How times have changed. In the sixties and seventies playing; coaching or administering rugby league meant consorting with colourful racing identities almost by definition.

Remember, Jack “leave the porch light on”, Gibson? He was a player and legendary coach of many clubs including Cronulla. He was also a well-known SP bookmaker, an illegal pursuit which was the back bone of the Sydney underworld in those years. In his youth he was an uncompromising debt collector and stand over man but revered for his laconic humour and success on the field.

The NRL is still consorting with betting agencies but now they’re legal. Each team has a wagering partner except Melbourne Storm which is sponsored by Crown Casino. That’s all fine but what happens if we discover that match fixing is so rife within the NRL that it undermines the legitimacy of that betting agency relationship? The rumours about players and officials betting are many, even more persistent than the whispers surrounding Jack Gibson’s underbelly bookmaking in decades past. Already police and the NSW Crime Commission have questioned dozens of players and officials; we will have to wait and see where that takes us.

The growth of punting on League is cancerous. Last week the ABC’s Media Watch said that gambling on sport was growing at 28 per cent a year. We’ve all seen the ads, you can’t escape them and neither can your kids. I find it a pernicious normalisation of gambling that almost swamps other advertising during games, pushing aside the promotion of alcohol and junk food.

Australians now lose $23 billion a year gambling with betting on sport the fastest growing sector in the market. Everybody’s in on the act with sport advertising revenues climbing from $91 million in 2011 to $236 million last year according to Media Watch.

So, we not only put up with betting on football, we encourage it while banning someone like Andrew Fifita from playing in our national team due to an off-field relationship when he could go off and play for his other homeland, Tonga, if he so desired.

It doesn’t seem to me that the Australian Rugby League is, “distinguishing itself off the field” with NRL clubs new addiction to sponsorship from gambling companies.

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