CRONULLA Sharks prop Andrew Fifita has apologised to the family of one punch victim Thomas Kelly for his public support of Kelly’s killer Kieran Loveridge.
As reported by The Daily Telegraph, the NSW Origin representative has worn strapping emblazoned with the letters “F.K.L”, believed to stand for “Free Kieran Loveridge” or “For Kieran Loveridge”.
On Friday afternoon Fifita said in a statement released by the Sharks he regretted his actions had forced the Kelly family to deal with seeing the matter in the media once again.
“I fully understand and accept the seriousness of the crime committed by Loveridge, the devastating impact it has had on the Kelly family and the need for Loveridge to serve his time,” Fifita said.
“I want to extend my sincere apologies to the Kelly family for any distress caused to them by having this tragic matter back in the media.”
Loveridge — who Fifita has known since childhood — is serving a 10-year jail sentence for killing Kelly with a single punch during a night out in Sydney’s Kings Cross in 2012.
Speaking on Triple M’s The Grill Team on Friday morning, both Mark Geyer and Matty Johns criticised Fifita for promoting the message on the strapping on his forearm, which The Telegraph revealed he has worn at least seven times in 2016.
“It’s not good … I had a couple of mates who went to jail and I went to visit them. I didn’t stick it in the family’s (face)” Geyer said. “They were in for less serious crimes than that (murder).
“You don’t stick it in the family’s face, Thomas Kelly’s family or for that matter any other family who’s been a victim of a coward punch.
“Every week going F.K.L — come on man. A young bloke’s passed away.
“I don’t care if you visit your mate in jail, that’s your prerogative as a mate, but please don’t stick it in the family who’s lost a son’s face.”
Johns said someone at the Sharks should tell Fifita his actions weren’t appropriate.
“It’s just in bad taste. The nature of the crime, and the hurt that family’s gone through, and even again recently, someone should just bump Andrew and say, ‘We know he’s your mate, we understand you want to support him, but come on’,” Johns said.
Speaking on Triple M Brisbane’s Marto and Ed Kavalee for Breakfast, Gorden Tallis said Fifita should be suspended from the NRL.
“What are you doing hanging around people like that and if it’s true, I think he’s got to be suspended, simple as that,” Tallis said.
“You can’t have people like that … I think he’s had enough warnings, you know like last year he was coaching a footy side and he harassed a referee or harassed the opposition coach and his brother was there. This guy’s got a chequered past.
“When are they going to learn?
“You get 300 or 250 guys going out there and all pulling in one direction and caring about the code then you get two or three or five that are bad eggs that can spoil it for everybody else.
“Fifita’s had enough chances and let’s just hope it’s some other message but if it is it, I think that the game should come down hard.”
The NRL released a statement on Friday afternoon where CEO Todd Greenberg said there was no place in the game for players engaging in activity that damages the game.
“Clearly it is inappropriate to use any club clothing or accessories to support someone with a criminal conviction,” Mr Greenberg said.
“Players are generally free to support any person or cause they like. But in circumstances such as these, they cannot use our game as a platform to do that.
“We understand players have a life outside their club and the game and that may include mixing with people who have gone down the wrong path in life.
“But players must ensure they do not engage in any activity which damages our game.”
Greenberg said the NRL was reluctant to introduce new laws relating to messages on arm guards or other apparel.
“This is a matter for common sense and we would hope the clubs and players can do the right thing without the need for new rules,” he said.
“Arm guards can often be used for messages of support for family, sick children and other worthy causes and we would prefer not to get in the way of that.”
Not only has the Kelly family had to deal with the death of their eldest son four years ago, but tragedy struck again this year when their youngest son — Stuart — committed suicide.
Loveridge was initially handed a five-year jail sentence in late 2013, causing widespread outrage that a crime so serious could receive a punishment so lenient. The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal then re-sentenced Loveridge to a minimum of 10-years in prison in 2014.
NSW Police on Wednesday warned Fifita for consorting with criminals, and the NRL’s integrity unit will investigate the matter.
Fifita is believed to have attracted the interest of police for the warning after his name came up while they looked into the Lone Wolf bikie gang, which Loveridge is alleged to have links to. Cronulla chief executive Lyall Gorman has also refused to comment on the matter until he investigates further.
On Thursday, before the alleged links with Loveridge were revealed, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said he had spoken to Fifita about the matter.
“Andrew hasn’t been charged with anything, he’s been warned for associating with these people, and he told me, ‘You didn’t grow up in the western suburbs’,” Flanagan said.
“A lot of his mates are in jail. That’s the way it is. He won’t desert them, but he understands he can’t contact them.”
Fifita attracted attention last year when he posted images on social media of former Wests Tigers prop Matt Lodge after he was arrested in New York for allegedly telling two women: “This is the night you die”.
Fifita was also suspended for six matches and fined $30,000 last year over his abuse of a referee at a junior rugby league match.