New St George Illawarra captain Ben Hunt has launched into his captaincy with a staunch defence of teammate Corey Norman over his “harsh” NRL punishment.
As it stands, the former Parramatta and Brisbane playmaker will miss the opening round and was on Saturday fined $20,000 for bringing the game into disrepute following a street brawl earlier this year.
Norman claimed he and former NRL hooker James Segeyaro were blind-sided when a fight broke out after Segeyaro was subjected to racial abuse.
In justifying the punishment, NRL boss Andrew Abdo said “there was a degree of provocation which led to the incident, but as a game we have been very clear that provocation is not an excuse to engage in a street fight”.
The club is yet to formally respond to the breach notice but Hunt, who car pools with halves partner Norman to training each day, felt the NRL had been heavy-handed as he begins life as Dragons captain under Anthony Griffin.
“It’s pretty tough. The way I see it Corey was standing up for a mate and what’s he meant to do in that situation?,” Hunt said.
“You can’t just stand back and cop it.
“It’s one I’ll leave to the club and NRL to sort out, but from my point (of view) it’s a bit harsh.”
Hunt’s view is shared by former Brisbane teammate Alex Glenn, who said the decision set a dangerous precedent.
“It’s going to take one of us players to get put in the hospital because we can’t defend ourselves in fear of your punishment before you realise that this was wrong?,” he wrote on Instagram.
“You’re meant to be protecting us. This is absolutely ludicrous.”
Brisbane pair Kotoni Staggs and Payne Haas have both copped fines – and in Haas’s case a three-game suspension – for separate incidents in the off-season as the ARLC chairman Peter V’landys vows to come down hard on player misbehaviour.
Meanwhile Hunt, who is set to weat the No.7 this season, said being awarded the Dragons captaincy had come as something of a surprise.
“I had a few days where I couldn’t get to sleep at night (after Griffin told him he would replace Cameron McInnes as captain),” he said.
“It’s a massive honour, it’s such a special club with a lot of history and massive shoes (to fill).”