Lance Hohaia has insisted he holds no grudge against Ben Flower for the punches that ruled him out of the bulk of the Grand Final win on Saturday – as Flower himself issued a public apology over the incident.
Flower became the first man to be sent off in a Super League Grand Final after punching Hohaia twice in the second minute of the Old Trafford showpiece, in a moment that has drawn mainstream media attention for all the wrong reasons.
But Hohaia was quick to pour cold water on the incident after the game, saying it was something that could happen in the heat of the moment, while insisting he holds no grudge against Flower.
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“I’m not a malicious person, so of course I’d accept an apology,” said Hohaia.
“People do things they regret in sport, especially in the heat of the moment. I don’t take these things to heart and we should just leave it at that.
“In the heat of the moment, people can do silly things. 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.”
Flower issued a statement via Wigan Warriors on Sunday after the incident, apologising to not just Hohaia, but Wigan too – as well as the sport of Rugby League in general.
“I am so sorry for what happened last night,” he said in the statement.
“There is no defence for my actions. It is something that happened in the heat of the moment. I instantly regretted it and am devastated that I allowed myself to punch someone like this.
“At Wigan… we may aim to dominate teams, but we don’t aim to hurt people. I firstly offer my apologies to Lance. I hope he is OK. I’d also like to say sorry to my team-mates, our fans and the Wigan club.
“I 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 attention away from a special event.”
Hohaia himself said he felt “fine” after the game, saying he was just thankful he could take part in – and remember – the celebrations surrounding Saints’ first Grand Final win in eight years.
“I’m fine. I’m pretty happy at the moment because we won – I’d have liked to play more of a role in the game, but these things can happen in sport,” added Hohaia.
“I can’t remember too much of the actual incident. I can remember the second half, but I was a bit foggy after the actual moment that happened. Thankfully I can remember the ending to the game and being involved in the celebrations, which is the key thing.”
The RFL Match Review Panel will examine the incident today (Monday), with a view to it being considered by the RFL Disciplinary Panel on Tuesday.
Flower is likely to face a grade F charge of punching, which carries a maximum suspension of eight matches, although RFL CEO Nigel Wood has made clear that the suspension could be greater if the Panel decides there are “exceptional circumstances”.
“It is rare in the modern game of Rugby League to have that sort of incident,” said Wood.
“Adrenaline was running high and the match officials dealt with it appropriately. The match review panel will review it and consider what case is to answer.
“We have a range of sanctions from grade A to F, at grade F it is four to eight games or north of that, and if the panel thought there were exceptional circumstances they can go outside the normal guidelines.”
Flower could also face a prosecution for assault from Greater Manchester Police.
A spokesman for the police said at the weekend: “We will be liaising with the Rugby Football League, the St Helens club, and the Crown Prosecution Service before a decision is made on what course of action is to be taken.”