Ben Flower apologises for Super League Grand Final attack
Wigan prop viciously assaulted St Helens rival Lance Hohaia after only two minutes
Ben Flower of Wigan walks from the pitch after receiving a red card during the Super League Grand Final against St Helens. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Lance Hohaia (centre) of St Helens is helped off the field by medics after being punched by Ben Flower of Wigan. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Flower became the first player to be either sin-binned or sent off in a Super League title decider when he was shown a red card - after only two minutes - for an act of violence that shocked the 70,000 crowd at Old Trafford and millions more watching on television.
The 26-year-old Wales international was still trending on Twitter in the United Kingdom 15 hours after flooring Hohaia with a right hook and then landing another punch to the face as his opponent lay motionless on the ground.
On Sunday he felt moved to apologise for his actions, insisting there was ``no defence’’ for the way he had behaved.
He said in a statement released by Wigan: “I am so sorry for what happened on Saturday night. There is no defence for my actions. It was something that happened in the heat of the moment when our emotions and adrenaline were running high. I instantly regretted it and am devastated that I allowed myself to punch someone like this.”
Hohaia says he does not bear a grudge against Flower over the incident, but the Wigan man was full of remorse as his statement continued: “At Wigan we are known for being aggressive but we are constantly told to do this within the rules of the game and that punching isn’t tough. We may aim to dominate teams, but we don’t aim to hurt people.
“I firstly offer my apologies to Lance. I have full respect for him and have never gone onto a rugby field to injure a fellow player. I hope he is okay. I’d also like to say sorry to my team-mates, our fans and the Wigan club. I know I’ve let them down like never before and accept I’ll have to live with this for the rest of my career.
“Finally, I’m sorry to the sport of rugby league. It was a big night and I know I’ve taken the attention away from what was a special event.”
Wigan chairman and owner Ian Lenagan and head coach Shaun Wane issued their own joint statement which read: “We apologise unreservedly on behalf of the Wigan club to Lance Hohaia, St Helens and the general rugby league family for Ben Flower’s totally inappropriate behaviour in Saturday night’s Grand Final.
“Rugby league is a tough sport, which we are proud of, but such a response is neither encouraged nor condoned. Such behaviour is not representative of rugby league nor the Wigan club.”
Wigan, the defending champions, were forced to play for 77 minutes with 12 men and it eventually took its toll as Saints overturned a 6-2 interval deficit to win 14-6 despite playing without a specialist half-back for virtually the whole game.
When Hohaia returned to the field, it was to join his team-mates in the victory celebrations and he emerged apparently unscathed two hours later to speak to journalists.
“I’m feeling good,’’ he said. “Obviously I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to play a bigger part in the game but we got the result and the small part that I played is enough to get the ring. I’m pretty happy about that. I don’t remember the incident. People have told me what happened, I guess I was hit around the head somewhere. Sometimes these things happen in the game.
“In the heat of the moment, people do some things they regret. I’ve done some silly things on the field myself so I don’t hold any grudges against Ben. He’s probably disappointed in himself for not being able to play a part in the game as well.
“I haven’t seen him. I’ve been spending time with my team-mates and my family. That’s more important to me at this point.”
Hohaia is due to go on a family holiday on Tuesday and is hoping hospital scans will not reveal a break that could hinder his ability to fly.
“I’ve got to have a scan through the week and, if it shows something, it shows something, but at this point I don’t feel too bad,” he added.
“I wanted to go back on but the doctor wouldn’t allow that to happen. My health comes before anything else. That’s why he’s there. My wife and kids were in the stand as well and I’ve got to think about them at the same time.”
The Flower case is set to rumble on for several days.
A Rugby Football League spokesman said it would be up to Hohaia and St Helens to decide whether to pursue legal action but the case would go as normal before the match review panel on Monday.
Flower is set to face a disciplinary tribunal on Tuesday when he can expect a suspension of around eight matches.
RFL chief executive Nigel Wood said: ‘’The matter will be dealt with as with any other Super League fixture.
“The match review panel will consider what case there is to answer and then an independent disciplinary tribunal will be convened to consider the evidence and adjudicate. There are a range of sanctions available in the event that there is a case to answer and there is scope to go outside that if necessary.”
St Helens chief executive Mike Rush said: “The club will wait for the league to take the appropriate steps before passing comment and we will then consider our position.”