An “ice hockey” style fight between two players has briefly marred finals day of the Tribal League competition, a showpiece Indigenous rugby league event.
Walgett Aboriginal Connection’s Tyronne Roberts-Davis, a former NRL player, and Newcastle Hawks’ Randall Briggs were the combatants when the punch-up broke out midway through their semi-final at Campbelltown on Saturday.
Playing at fullback, Roberts-Davis sparked a heated scuffle when he shoulder-charged Callan Briggs. The Hawks player, who according to the match commentators is Randall Briggs’ nephew, made a break just after Walgett had fallen to a 14-0 deficit and was dropped by the illegal hit.
Callan Briggs had elder brothers and uncles on the field with him and they didn’t cop the hit lightly. Veteran referee Gavin Badger eventually restored calm – but only briefly.
After Newcastle kicked for touch and took the tap from the penalty, Randall Briggs followed the ball-runner and came face to face with Roberts-Davis in the defensive line. Randall Briggs, a strong back-rower, gave Roberts-Davis a shove in the chest and their fight was on.
Randall Briggs threw the first punch and Robert-Davis responded with blows of his own. Both men landed heavy shots but Randall Briggs came off worst and was forced to leave the field due to bleeding from the head.
The players shook hands after the fight, which unfolded in bizarre fashion. After teammates initially tried to intervene, they then all stood back in a circle around the men and watched the action, before finally moving in to break them up.
“This is ice hockey stuff,” former Test star Timana Tahu said on NITV’s commentary.
“This is unprofessional by both players, to start swinging like this. This is no good. Back in the ’80s, yeah, but not now. This is stupid by both of these players.
“Stupid play. There was no need. Emotions are high, I know that; the young fella got tackled earlier, young Briggs, by Roberts-Davis, but there’s no need to go in and start punching-on.
“Come on now. Play football. That’s what we’re here for. We’re not here to play this type of football.”
Newcastle went on to win the 40-minute match 26-0, booking a spot in the final against Coastal Connections.
It was a gripping decider, won 6-4 by the Hawks thanks to a second-minute try from Randall Briggs and a second-half penalty kick from Scott Briggs. The Newcastle team was captained by Parramatta Eels ace Will Smith and featured former Knights halfback Luke Walsh at No.7. Another ex-NRL star, Dylan Farrell, played for Coastal Connections.
“Any knockout grand final’s going to be a close one, everyone’s fighting it out for their towns, their people, their families, so it’s always tough,” Smith said post-match.
“All these fellas here … they’re the reason why I play NRL. That’s where my hunger comes from as a kid, playing in the backyard, on the road, playing touch, whatever.”
The Newcastle Hawks were made up of players from three family teams: Newcastle Yowies, Newcastle All Blacks and Newcastle Emus.
“It’s the first time we’ve all come together since we were little kids playing in the backyard, so it’s unbelievable to come away with this win,” Smith said.
It was the inaugural edition of Tribal League, which took place over three consecutive Saturdays in Dubbo, Gosford and Campbelltown. It featured six men’s teams and four women’s teams.
Tribal League, run by National Indigenous Rugby League, was aimed at providing a new elite pathway for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players. Redfern All Blacks won the women’s competition, while Walgett won the third-place playoff over Wellington Castlereagh All Blacks.
The most iconic event of the Indigenous rugby league calendar, the Koori Knockout, was postponed until 2021 due to COVID-19. The 50th edition of the event will be held next October in Nowra, hosted by defending champions the South Coast Black Cockatoos.