NRL women's adviser says game is sending wrong message with Kieran Foran's return
NRL women's advisor Catharine Lumby fears the message rugby league's governing body is sending to the rest of the competition by allowing Kieran Foran to return after what is effectively a two-week suspension.
Professor Lumby's comments came after a column by Sydney Morning Herald's Andrew Webster revealed the troubled Kiwi playmaker had abused late journalist Rebecca Wilson, which Lumby told Australia's Daily Telegraph had left her "close to tears".
Speaking to Stuff, Lumby said the NRL had generally led the way in dealing with off-field issues, including the treatment of women.
But it was clear she felt they had dropped the ball on this occasion.
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"I think we should have a pretty zero-tolerance policy with any player who has been educated and who has been given support," Lumby said.
"I don't think they should be kicked out of the game forever but they should be taken aside and given that support. I also think that sends a message about how unacceptable it is for any player to be abusing, assaulting or harassing women."
Foran's contract with the Warriors has been registered and he will be allowed to take the field in round three, provided he passes a psychological assessment and adheres to a set of strict conditions.
He continues to be off limits to the media, but in a brief statement on Friday morning, Warriors managing director Jim Doyle said he was not surprised his return has polarised views.
"We were well aware that when Kieran's contract was registered some people would see it as a positive but some people would be negative," Doyle wrote.
"Kieran has discussed all aspects of his past with the NRL so no need for him or us to discuss these further."
Lumby, who works pro bono advising the NRL's wellbeing and education committee, was not consulted during the NRL Integrity Unit's investigation into Foran, nor did she expect to be.
The Sydney Morning Herald, though, reported that Foran's abuse of Wilson had been a key issue for the NRL.
Foran departed Parramatta midway through last season to address mental-health issues as his private life unravelled.
And while Lumby accepted being back around the football environment may be the best thing for his rehabilitation, she feels the NRL could have continued to support Foran without letting him play so soon.
Asked what sanction would be appropriate, Lumby said: "Something that sends a serious message and also more importantly, a really strong support structure around the player to help him change that behaviour.
"Those sorts of support systems, psychological and so on, work if someone commits to them. If you give them a two-match suspension; I really don't see the value in that."
Wilson's husband on Thursday savaged the NRL for allowing Foran back into the game, lifting the lid on the 26-year-old's abusive texts and phone call to her.
"That abuse caused great hurt and pain to my wife in the last days of her life," said Australian media executive John Hartigan, who called police following the alleged threats.
"It appears the NRL has given him the green light despite his behaviour. If they really have standards, for the sake of having a supposed star in the mix, they've dropped the flag."
Wilson died in October from cancer, but the alleged texts and phone call took place when Foran was still with the Eels. He was released by the club in July and it was around this time that Foran had hit rock bottom.
In Webster's article, he wrote that Wilson was one of the first to know about Foran's break-up with partner Rebecca Pope and the dramatic impact it was having on his football career.
Foran had contacted her about it and Wilson had agreed not to run the story for the sake of all involved.
However, Wilson's byline is on a story from May last year about A$75,000 being gambled away from Foran's TAB account, in a two-hour gambling spree soon after he checked out of a rehab clinic.
Wilson also wrote in June about Foran's relationship with Pope and that they were trying to reconcile their relationship, also reporting that Foran had confided with people that he may never play again.
Foran was placed on indefinite leave by his club the Parramatta Eels in April 2016 following his break-up with long-time partner Pope. At the time, the NRL club said the star half needed time to deal with "personal issues".
Talk of a mental illness followed and later it was revealed Foran was questioned as the NRL Integrity Unit conducted an anti-corruption investigation into the Eels.