Brad Thorn says his habit for making the tough call since taking over as Queensland Reds coach didn’t make it any easier to drop star recruit Suliasi Vunivalu ahead of Friday’s Super Rugby AU opener.
The 25-year-old will head to court in April after being charged with common assault for allegedly striking a security guard in the face at a Brisbane pub late last month.
The Reds aren’t waiting to hear the judge’s verdict though, dropping the two-time NRL premiership winger from what would have been his professional rugby debut and fining him $10,000.
The former Melbourne Storm flyer and Wallabies hopeful will be available to play next Friday against the Melbourne Rebels after apologising internally and in front of the cameras when the punishment was made public on Tuesday.
Thorn has overseen the Reds departures of Wallabies Karmichael Hunt and James Slipper for drug-related incidents, while his first move as head coach was to controversially overlook Quade Cooper as he sought to improve the club’s culture.
A grand final loss in last season’s domestic competition was their biggest step forward since winning the Super Rugby title in 2011 and Thorn is hopeful their rebuild isn’t eroded by Vunivalu’s untimely slip-up.
“They’re not much fun, making those decisions, but it’s where things are at and as a club we felt that was the right decision,” he said.
“It might be easier if it was an academy player or something; there’s a lot of excitement about him being here.
“If you didn’t handle it properly you might have a concern (about the culture), but it’s been handled professionally and it’s just life, things happen.
“There’s a group of guys there that really care about each other and this club doing well and who they represent and nothing’s really changed there.”
Injured captain Liam Wright was pleased rugby’s new pin-up boy wasn’t given any allowances because of his stature.
“It’s distracting and we’ve let him know that it’s not up to our standards and he’s been remorseful and embarrassed and fronted up, taken it on the chin and is owning his mistake,” Wright said.
“New (interim) skipper James (O’Connor), that’s something he’s learnt on his journey that we’re men and sometimes make mistakes but that we own up to it, front up to it and cop the decision that comes.
“It’s part of that culture we’ve been building … we want our standards to be higher this year given we’re going for more, going for silverware.
“He understands there’s no leeway, whether you’re an academy player or a big star and he’s happy to make up for his mistake.”