Asofa-Solomona responds to Bali brawl ban
THE NRL integrity unit has cleared Storm star Nelson Asofa-Solomona for the first round of the NRL season but the star has been slapped with a three-match ban, meaning he will miss New Zealand's end-of-season international fixtures.
New Zealand will play Australia on October 25 before Tests against Great Britain on November 2 and 9 with Asofa-Solomona set to watch from the stands.
The NRL and the club will reportedly announce the sanctions and disciplinary action they will take against the star forward, but Asofa-Solomona will be free to play in the opening game of the 2020 NRL season.
In a statement the NRL said: "The sanctions take into account evidence which showed a degree of provocation contributed to the incident, Asofa-Solomona's co-operation with the NRL investigation and the remorse he has shown.
"All clubs were advised prior to the start of the off-season that serious penalties would be imposed for all off-field incidents. The NRL expects exemplary behaviour from all players and any player who falls short of that standard will be sanctioned."
Asofa-Solomona will have to keep his nose clean after having a suspended $15,000 fine levelled at him after dramatic vision showed the Kiwi prop throwing punches after teammate Suliasi Vunivalu was allegedly the victim of a coward punch attack in Bali.
It has emerged Vunivalu was allegedly hit by a man, triggering Asofa-Solomona's reaction to try and defend his teammate.
Asofa-Solomona went to the Storm website to break his silence on the issue, saying he was just defending his friend in Vunivalu "who had earlier been coward-punched in an unprovoked attack".
He also accepted the sanctions.
"Suli is one of my closest friends and obviously I would never have reacted that way had he not been assaulted earlier inside the bar," Asofa-Solomona said.
"The last few days have been very tough obviously, but the support I have had from the club, the RLPA, my family, friends and the fans has been incredible.
"Looking back on this incident, could this have been handled differently? Yes, I could have picked up Suli and got out of there. Unfortunately, that is not the way this played out.
"I understand that as a Storm and NRL player, I'm a role model for kids and I want them to know that meeting violence with violence is not the solution."
Storm CEO Dave Donaghy also said the Melbourne athletes had become a target in this incident and said "we want our players to able to enjoy themselves, particularly when they are on leave and in their own private time".
The New Zealand Rugby League will also announce its own verdict and potential disciplinary action against Asofa-Solomona after he was earlier this month selected in the Kiwis' squad for upcoming Test matches, including a game against Australia.
"We'll leave it with the integrity unit," Kiwis coach Michael Maguire said.
"That's what it's there for. That's all we can say at the moment. No doubt, we will have conversations and look after that in due time.
"I'm not going to assume anything. They'll make sure they are thorough in what they go through. I'm sure the integrity unit will do that."
Asofa-Solomona's situation has split opinion across the league after footage appeared to show him throwing several punches outside a restaurant last weekend.
Asofa-Solomona landed back in Australia on Monday from Bali and met Storm officials hours later.
If the 23-year-old was suspended, it would come as a massive blow for the Kiwis, already without injured forwards Jesse Bromwich and James Fisher-Harris.
Asofa-Solomona, having played just five Tests, would have been a guaranteed starter, with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Leeson Ah Mau, Braden Hamlin-Uele and Isaac Liu the other middles in their 19-man squad.
It comes after Vunivalu spoke for the first time about the incident.
Vunivalu said Asofa-Solomona was protecting him when he lashed out at men alleged to have been involved in the coward punch attack on Vunivalu.
"I blacked out but when I came to I looked up and I was like 'holy heck what just happened'. I was so scared," Vunivalu said.
"I didn't see it coming. I was lucky I didn't fall and hit my head because people would have been visiting in a coma from my hospital bed.
"The scariest bit was being punched and having no idea it happened. I would've defended myself and tried to dodge the punch but I didn't have time. It was out of the blue that I got punched."