News24

'Fingering' rugby player rapped

2001-03-30 10:28

Sydney - The ultimate bastion of macho Australia - rugby league - was reeling on Thursday after Wests Tigers badboy John Hopoate was found guilty of sticking his fingers up opponents' backsides.

The Tongan-born Hopoate, who played two Tests for the Australian national side, the Kangaroos, in 1999, was banned for 12 National Rugby League championship matches.

NRL commissioner Jim Hall described it as a "disgusting, vile and offensive act".

"During my 45 years in rugby league, never have I come across a more disgusting act," Hall said.

However, talk radio shows were inundated with fans and ex-players telling how common the act is.

And Hopoate's club coach, Terry Lamb, who played 349 first grade games, said it is reasonably common to be touched in the region of the testicles.

Bernie Gross, who defended Hopoate before the NRL disciplinary commission, claimed he was only giving the players a "wedgie".

But North Queensland's Peter Jones, one of three players Hopoate attacked, dismissed the claim.

"Wedgies are when your pants are pulled up around your arse. I think I know the difference between a wedgie and someone sticking their fingers up my bum," Jones said.

The 27-year-old Hopoate, a Mormon with five children, has been in trouble with the NRL disciplinary commission seven times in the last four years, usually for fighting.

It is not the first time such an unsavoury incident has been reported. Australian lock Bradley Clyde claimed Great Britain centre Garry Schofield inserted his finger during a 1992 Test at Sydney.

Rugby league observers believe more of it goes on but players do not report it because they fear being embarrassed.

Test star Wendell Sailor said he warned Hopoate his wayward finger would get him into trouble three weeks ago. Sailor said after being "jabbed" by Hopoate for the third time, he said: "You're kidding mate, you are going to get into trouble."

Tigers chairperson John Chalk said they will appeal the decision to suspend Hopoate. - Sapa-AFP