Then, on Monday, Broncos prop Payne Haas was slapped with a $50,000 fine and three-match ban for abusing police, daring them to taser him before threatening physical violence on a female officer.
The problem isn’t so much the sanctions but the inconsistency of them in comparison to those given to other players. Or even Haas himself.
Two years ago, Haas was suspended for four matches and fined $20,000 for failing to co-operate fully with the NRL integrity unit in relation to two off-field incidents involving family members.
“We see this is as a mistake made by a young man and we are confident Payne will learn his lesson,” Broncos chief executive Paul White said at the time.
Evidently not. Haas’ latest indiscretion, for which he received a two-year good behaviour bond, appears to be infinitely worse, yet the punishment is less in terms of matches to be served.
Which brings us to Corey Norman, who was involved in a street fight with a group of men in Cronulla and is now inconceivably facing a suspension and fine similar to Haas’.
According to a statement on January 25 from his ironically named company You Know The Rules, Norman was leaping to the defence of his friend James Segeyaro, who they claim was racially abused before a knife was pulled.
It was also claimed Norman was “blindsided” while protecting his friend.
“Before the media have the opportunity to do their thing,” the statement read, “we wanted to be fully transparent.”
CCTV footage of the incident will show whether the version of events laid out in the statement is correct.
A question will be whether the level of provocation warranted the response, although if someone started racially abusing my good mate, who I’d just dined alongside with our respective partners, it would be difficult to not unleash my inner Marvin Hagler.
The NRL is waiting for the police investigation to conclude before deciding on penalties for Norman.
It is unlikely that police charges will be laid but the Dragons five-eighth is expected to receive a suspension and a fine sometime this week after the moment was captured on a passer-by’s mobile phone and aired on TV.
Don’t be surprised if it’s in the same ballpark as the one given to Haas.
The NRL made a rod for its back when it suspended Storm giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona for three internationals after he stepped in when teammate Suliasi Vunivalu was about to get whacked with a bottle outside Bali nightclub Favela.
Much like the Norman case now, the NRL wasn’t totally convinced the situation warranted his punching frenzy, which was also captured on a mobile phone but didn’t attract police charges.
My Bali nightclub sources, who were standing right there, said he saved his teammate’s life.
Two years ago, the NRL introduced a matrix, much like the grading system for on-field misdemeanours, to bring some consistency to proceedings. It has failed.
Does Asofa-Solomona deserve greater punishment than Haas? Does Norman deserve something similar to Haas? How many notes in a saxophone? How many tears in a bottle of gin?
And where does Mitchell Pearce reside in this debate after he was fined $125,000 and banned for eight matches for his Australia Day shenanigans … which were also captured on a mobile phone but didn’t attract police charges?
Professor Catharine Lumby has become a rent-a-quote on player misbehaviour in recent years, even though she has no role at the NRL as many keep misreporting.
After the Pearce incident, some of us felt the best thing for the Roosters halfback was a change of scenery. For his sake as much as his club.
Lumby wanted his head on a stick.
“He should be stood aside, this should be the end of his career!” she fumed.
When contacted last week about the Haas situation, she said he deserved no suspension because “some cultural backgrounds have sometimes had a history of distrust of the police”.
Thankfully, the NRL no longer listens to Catharine Lumby, but her responses highlight the subjectiveness of the issue.
Like Asofa-Solomona, I don’t think Norman should be sanctioned. Many do. Others consider the Haas punishment too heavy. I reckon it’s a slap on the wrist.
Perhaps it’s time for the NRL to defer these matters to an independent arbitrator with the player stating his case, and the NRL explaining the damage done to its good name, because the system currently in place is simply too inconsistent. Nor is it working.
The sledgehammer penalties delivered to Pearce were supposedly a line in the sand. So, too, the controversial stand-down policy that has sidelined Jack de Belin for more than two years.
That line gets blown away in the off-season as alcohol mixed with athlete entitlement leads us to the sight of a 21-year-old prop the size of a minibus barking at a female officer: “Why you looking at me like that? Cause you’re a woman you think I won’t touch ya?”
Things need to change. How many times have we said that?
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.