By Travis Meyn and Peter Badel, News Corp Australia Sports Newsroom.
The NRL has launched an investigation into the Gold Coast Titans amid revelations of a cover-up involving $3.5 million recruit David Fifita.
News Corp can reveal the NRL was unaware a payment had been made to the family involved in Fifita’s bizarre incident during the Christmas break.
Fifita was arrested after allegedly trespassing at a Gold Coast property in December but was later released without charge.
Watch Live & On-Demand coverage of NRL pre-season trial matches on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial now & start streaming instantly >
While the NRL Integrity Unit’s investigation has not formally concluded, it was believed Fifita would escape sanction over the incident given he was not charged by police.
However the NRL is now probing further after being made aware of a potential compensation payout which could have salary cap implications.
NRL chief Andrew Abdo confirmed the league had not been told about the payment and an investigation was underway.
“This is live at the moment,” he said.
“It is fair to say that we obviously weren’t given all the information by the club in the first instance which we are going to deal with. There is an investigation going on.
“The Fifita case was not totally closed by us.
“We have requested some additional information from the Titans and we will review that information.”
The NRL’s investigation will look into whether the money was paid by Fifita or the Titans given there are potential salary cap implications if the club has made the payment.
If the payment is deemed salary cap compliant, Fifita’s actions are still expected to be re-examined as the NRL investigates what transpired to prompt compensation.
Titans CEO Steve Mitchell would not confirm who made the payment, but was adamant the club hadn’t breached salary cap rules.
“The Integrity Unit has asked for more detail which we are supplying,” he said.
“We are completely salary cap compliant.
“It has been a matter of getting it all put to bed and wrapping it up. There are a couple of small pieces they need which we are providing.
“We are always salary compliant and work very hard at that.”
Fifita was arrested by police about 8am on December 27, following reports of trespassing at an address in Clear Island Waters on the Gold Coast.
He was questioned at Broadbeach police station and released without charge. Fifita was later issued an adult police caution.
The NRL’s Integrity Unit made inquiries but no formal sanctions were announced and the incident was put down to being a mix-up, with reports suggesting Fifita had entered the wrong room of an address he had been invited to.
However, revelations a payment was made have raised further questions about what actually transpired.
On a club record three-year deal, Fifita will pocket $1.25 million this season and is arguably the biggest signing in Titans history, rivalling the failed acquisition of Jarryd Hayne from the NFL in 2016.
Fifita, who turns 21 on Thursday, is scheduled to make his first playing appearance in Titans colours on Saturday night in Lismore when Gold Coast faces New Zealand in a trial match.
He featured for the Indigenous All Stars in last Friday’s game against the Maori All Stars in Townsville, but is yet to play for the Titans.
The NRL’s fresh investigation around their star recruit will be an unwanted distraction for the Titans only two weeks before the 2021 season kicks off.
It is not the first time Fifita has been involved in an incident where money has been exchanged.
In November 2019, while contracted to the Broncos, Fifita was detained in a Bali jail for three days following an incident with a nightclub security guard.
A Broncos employee flew to the Indonesian island immediately to help broker Fifita’s release, which only occurred after a “peace agreement” was reached.
Fifita is believed to have paid $30,000 to secure his release from the jail.
The NRL was made aware of the Bali payment which was paid for by Fifita. There were no salary cap implications due to the transparency.
Fifita was released from the jail after the agreement was finalised and his camp has consistently maintained he was the victim of an extortion plot due to his status as an NRL rising star.
Fifita became the first player born this century to play in the NRL when he made his debut for the Broncos in 2018, playing 11 games in his rookie season.
He played three State of Origin games for Queensland in 2019 but missed last year’s series after undergoing knee surgery following an injury-plagued final season at the Broncos.
In early January, Titans coach Justin Holbrook spoke to media and claimed the Fifita trespassing issue had been “resolved” but would not comment on whether the club imposed any sanctions on their highest-paid player.
“Yeah, I did (speak to him). It’s not good but it’s been resolved now,” he said.
“We’ve got to move on now.”
Fifita made a dramatic shift from the Broncos to Titans in the off-season following an ugly contract spat with Brisbane.
He has only faced the media once since joining the Titans, when he was unveiled in Gold Coast colours last November.
“It feels great to be a Titan,” Fifita said at the time.
“There’s no pressure. I am looking forward to the expectation.
“It’s a new challenge, a new opportunity on the Coast, so all the money stuff, my mum looks after that so I don’t have to worry about that.
“All I need to worry about is getting my body right and ripping in next year.
“It would mean everything to make (the Titans a force). That’s the goal next year — top eight, top four.
“I know myself and the boys will train hard and I can’t wait for round one.
“My ultimate goal is a premiership, 100 per cent.”
It now remains unclear whether he will be allowed to play in Round 1 given the NRL’s hard-line stance on player behaviour.