The Fonua-Blake Debate
A “f***ing retard” and “Are your f***ing eyes painted on you bunch of spastics”. These were the vile comments aimed at NRL referee Grant Atkins from Fonua-Blake, after his sides controversial 14-12 defeat to Newcastle last round. His contentious words came after team-mate Funa had been pushed in the back by Bradman Best of the Knights without the ball and no penalty had been called. Had the arguably correct decision been made and Garrick had converted the ensuing penalty goal, the game would’ve headed to extra-time. But alas, it wasn’t mean to be.
Fonua-Blake has now been banned for two weeks. This at a time when his side needs him the most. Manly are sitting outside of the Top Eight and are battling serious injury issues with the likes of Tommy Turbo and Dylan Walker. And to compound the issue, Peter V’landys called him out personally, labelling the incident as “inexcusable”. He also described it as “intolerable”. On the flip side, NRL head of Football Graham Annesley recently labelled the call as one he wouldn’t have made. Yet nothing has been made of Atkins controversial choice not to blow his whistle for what would’ve been a last-second penalty.
Fans online are divided. Some think the refs continue to screw up continuously and good on Fonua-Blake for what he said. Some think he was totally out of line and is a thug for his intimidation like tactics. Others think it should’ve been a penalty and others not. Suffice to say it is lighting up the Rugby League world at the moment (and not in a good way). I’m going to go into detail about Fonua-Blake and his particular vocabulary and the non-penalty decision by Annesley as well. Based on all of that, you’ll be able to make your own informed opinion about this recent tirade from an NRL bad boy.
Fonua-Blake- Good or Bad? That is the question
No matter which way you look at it, whether it was a penalty or not a penalty, it is not a good look for the former NZ and current Tonga international superstar.
To start with, he was previously fired from the Dragons after he pleaded guilty to pushing and kicking his partner, whilst under the influence of alcohol, in 2015. In the fallout from this, he was given a one-year suspended sentence. Additionally, he was fined $1000 and ordered to undergo counselling. The fact that he is allowed to play in the NRL makes me sick to my stomach.
However, there is a certain irony to the NRL calling him out for his disgusting actions. Matt Lodge is currently employed by the Broncos. Likewise, Josh Dugan by the Sharks. And Jake Friend by Sydney. And in the past, we’ve seen fellas such as Todd Carney, Ben Barba and Anthony Watmough, reach incredible heights in the game. That despite their numerous and varied off the field discretions. The NRL gets massive publicity anytime a player stuffs up, which is a lot. So, the ban was surprising given Rugby League’s leniency in recent times regarding who they employ to play for them.
Now in his favour, his side had just lost the game of the back of a very controversial decision. He was fuelled by emotions and no doubt very frustrated. Besides, this wasn’t even the first time this year that Manly had a game defined by a poor on-field referee choice (cough, cough, Parra). And he’d probably had a gut-full of it and rightfully so. NRL players are professional athletes, so of course any abuse they give an official, they’ll come out looking worse for wear from. And had Fonua-Blake expressed his opinion more professionally, then it would’ve been warranted. When do officials ever get punished for their absolute blunders? Rarely, that’s when.
He did also apologise after it had all cooled over. “I should not have let my emotions get the better of me and I am very sorry for the comments I made.” That was just one part of his press-statement.
Grant Atkins- A Man Under Pressure at the Moment
Cameron Smith, James Graham, Adam Blair and Sam Burgess. What do those four high-profile names have in common? Throughout their respective careers, they’ve been notorious for abusing referees. It’s just not the high-profile names who do it either, week in, week out, the officials cop it in one way or another. From Geoff Toovey’s famous line, “There’s got to be an investigation”, right through to them being physically confronted on the field, standing toe-to-toe with men 5X their size, it can be very scary being an NRL referee.
And they are all humans at the end of the day. And humans are bound to make mistakes from time to time, no matter what field you are in. So, in defence of Atkins, he was under a hell of a lot of pressure to make the right call. And it’s not a black-and-white call either, so in his opinion and many others, he got it right. But to many others, he also got it wrong.
But not in any other field, would you cop ridiculous abuse of that magnitude, even if you did your job wrong. So, he doesn’t deserve all the hateful abuse he and his team are getting online. Fonua-Blake was way, way, way out of line to size up to him about it, TWICE! Referees can never really win in the NRL, it’s a role that comes with a crap-tonne of pressure. And he’s feeling the heat at the moment. Whether the right call was made or not, it’s certainly undeserved and un-warranted with regards to the hateful comments he is getting.
All of this has just split the NRL world right down the middle. And as unfortunate as it is. It probably won’t be decided for a long, long time to come. Fonua-Blake deserves more than two weeks, perhaps five! But Grant should probably also be rested for a week or two, as it is my personal opinion that he screwed up! Fonua-Blake should have been more diligent in what he was saying. And Atkins should have been more aware of what just occurred in the game he was helping to officiate. Debate away. As there is seemingly no clear right or wrong answer here.