Cronulla star Andrew Fifita has apologised to the family of fatal one-punch victim Thomas Kelly after wearing strapping emblazoned with the initials of his killer in a series of NRL games.
The Sharks’ prop could still face sanction from the NRL despite denying the letters FKL referred to old friend Kieran Loveridge being freed from prison.
Fifita will be hauled in front of the NRL integrity unit next week to explain the initials, which were displayed on his strapping in at least seven games this year.
“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 was quoted as saying on Friday afternoon on the Sharks’ website.
“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.”
The revelations come after Fifita was warned by NSW detectives on Wednesday for consorting with criminals after making several visits to Loveridge in Cessnock jail.
“Both the club and Andrew are totally aligned with the police and the NRL in wishing to protect the game from criminal infiltration and Andrew is fully aware of the need for him to accept the directions given to him,” the Sharks said.
“In relation to assertions that letters worn by Andrew on his armband earlier in the season in any way refer to Loveridge being freed, the player vehemently denies them.”
NRL boss Todd Greenberg said the governing body would further investigate what the initials stood for.
“Clearly it is inappropriate to use any club clothing or accessories to support someone with a criminal conviction,” he 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.”
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said it was hard to monitor what players wrote on their strapping tape and that he was upset with how the drama had affected preparations for their minor-premiership showdown with Melbourne.
He confirmed Fifita would be a certain starter against the Storm.
A win for the Sharks would give them the JJ Giltinan shield and $100,000 in prizemoney, while a loss could set them back as far as third and a possible week-one final against Canberra in the nation’s capital.
“I’m terribly disappointed in the whole situation but my job as coach is I’ve got to get this team ready to play a game on Saturday night,” he said.
“Players usually get crosses for their religious beliefs or halves have got their special plays that they want to have on there.
“I know (Sharks captain Paul Gallen) had a sick kid who actually passed away recently written on his arm. We see the (Newcastle halfback Trent) Hodkinson writing some kids’ names on kicking tees.”
Loveridge was responsible for the high-profile manslaughter of 18-year-old Thomas in 2012 during a night out in Kings Cross and is serving a minimum 10-year sentence.
Reports in The Daily Telegraph suggested Fifita could have once coached Loveridge and that FKL possibly stood for “For Kieran Loveridge”.