High-profile Queensland Reds recruit Suliasi Vunivalu has been dropped just days out from his would-be Super Rugby AU debut for allegedly pushing a security guard in a Brisbane pub.
The champion NRL winger had arrived at Ballymore fresh off a premiership with the Melbourne Storm as Rugby Australia’s big-ticket item.
But on Tuesday the “embarrassed” 25-year-old fronted cameras to apologise after copping a club-imposed $10,000 fine alongside suspension from Friday’s season opener at Suncorp Stadium against the NSW Waratahs.
It’s understood the security guard was not injured during the altercation, which has been described as a minor incident.
But Vunivalu has been charged and is due to appear in court on April 19.
“I’m embarrassed to be in this position and I apologise to the QRU (Queensland Rugby Union) and my teammates for that,” he said in a prepared statement.
“I apologise to the fans and rugby community, especially in Queensland.
“I understand the position the QRU have taken; they expect a high standard form players and I do as well.
“I’m proud to be part of the Reds and Rugby Australia and looking forward to the matter being resolved.”
The incident occurred on January 30 but the club were only alerted to it “late last week”.
“I am disappointed and expressed that to Suli,” QRU boss Dave Hanham said when queried about the delay in the club receiving information about the incident.
“The earlier we know these things the better … Suli’s aware of that and that’s factored into our decision-making.
“We’ve been able to agree to a set of sanctions that are appropriate in the immediate and once the matter’s heard in full then we can reassess.
“It’s round one with a new broadcast deal, new competition … that’s sitting on Suli’s shoulders pretty heavily.”
Vunivalu was implicated in an NRL integrity unity investigation in 2019 when he was allegedly a victim of a coward punch at a Bali nightspot that sparked a brawl that included former Storm teammate Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
The 25-year-old had already spent time in camp with the Wallabies and is considered an immense talent likely to feature in national coach Dave Rennie’s plans ahead of the 2023 World Cup.
At this stage, Vunivalu will be free to debut against the Melbourne Rebels in round two while Rugby Australia’s performance boss Scott Johnson said it wouldn’t ruin his Wallabies aspirations.
“It does (send a message) and it supports the culture Queensland’s trying to have here,” Johnson said of the Reds’ decision to penalise Vunivalu ahead of his date in court.
“(Coach) Brad’s (Thorn) put his foot down over numerous years; these young men are role models in our community … whilst this may be a minor incident in our sport we have high standards and want our players to adhere to that.”