Program Transcript

Read the program transcript of Sarah Ferguson's report "Code of Silence", first broadcast 11 May 2009 on ABC1.

Reporter: Sarah Ferguson

Date: 11/05/2009

SARAH FERGUSON: In rugby league, they like to say theirs is the hardest game, their players the toughest.

STEVE BURRASTON, CEO NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: We attract an aggressive, young, risk taking male.

(Excerpt from NRL - National Rugby League - advertisement, kids playing rugby league)

SONG: Long as I remember it was me and you.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: The NRL spent almost a million dollars this year on an ad campaign to attract more young risk takers to the code.

DAVID GALLOP, CEO NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE: We're in the business of attracting people to our game and the younger we can get them the better.

SARAH FERGUSON: 48 hours after its release, the star of the campaign, Brett Stewart, was embroiled in scandal, drunk at the Manly season launch, facing charges of sexual indecency.

(Excerpt of footage of Brett Stewart getting out of a car, mobbed by reporters)

REPORTER: Are you going to fight the charges?

(End of Excerpt)

ROY MASTERS, SPORTS WRITER AND FORMER COACH: They are at ah, a golden triangle of celebrity status, a lot of money and too much time.

SARAH FERGUSON: Rugby league has always attracted camp followers. But today's young players have moved with the times, sexting and circulating pornographic videos on mobile phones.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: This young girl was you know having sex with one of the players and the, they had their cameras in there, their phones in there and other players were videoing it going on their cameras.

SARAH FERGUSON: It was the Canterbury Bulldogs scandal in 2004 that uncovered the depraved practise of group sex with vulnerable young women.

NRL officials expressed shock but they should have seen it coming.

Two years earlier the details of another horrifying incident were kept from the public.

CLARE: There was always hands on me and there was always um, if one person had stopped, someone was touching me and doing something else. There was never a point where I was not being handled.

(Excerpt of footage from NRL advertisement)

MATTHEW JOHNS: The best the thing about a 2009 NRL club membership.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: After we approached him last week, the other face of the NRL's recruitment drive Matthew Johns made a pre emptive apology on national television.

(Excerpt of footage from television apology)

MATTHEW JOHNS: For me personally, it put my family through enormous anguish and embarrassment. It has once again, and for that I can't say sorry enough.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Johns wasn't alone, at least 11 other players and staff were in the room and many more have kept this degrading secret.

(Excerpt continued)

PAUL VAUTIN, FOOTY SHOW HOST: Alright mate, well said. Alright, let's get on with the show.

(End of Excerpt)

CLARE: I had my eyes shut. When I opened my eyes there was just a long line at the end of the bed.

(On Screen Text: Code of Silence, Reporter: Sarah Ferguson)

SARAH FERGUSON: Tonight on Four Corners women break Rugby League's "Code of Silence".

Game day at Newcastle stadium, a big day for the local fans, this is the first home game of the season for the Newcastle Knights. In the dressing room the players are in the final stages of preparation before kickoff.

STEVE BURRASTON, CEO NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: These guys are pumped up, they are playing a very aggressive game and they are putting their bodies on the line, it's fearless. It's not as bad as going to war and I wouldn't suggest that, but it's probably like the old gladiator days and they get out there and they belt the hell out of each other and there's probably no other game that is like it.

SARAH FERGUSON: Their opponents today are the Manly Sea Eagles. Last year's champions, Manly haven't won a game since their alcohol-fuelled season launch.

FEMALE MANLY FAN: Yeah I think it's really affected Manly, they're not playing really good football at the moment.

FEMALE NEWCASTLE FAN: When you get men and alcohol mixed together you're going to get idiots.

MALE NEWCASTLE FAN: They turn into to idiots.


SARAH FERGUSON: Newcastle plans to capitalise on the disarray at Manly. One of Manly's key players Anthony Watmough punched a sponsor at the season launch, the Knight's are preparing to single him out on the field.

Manly's star player Brett Stewart is still on suspension for being drunk at the same event.

MANLY FAN: I think Brett Stewart getting suspended was ridiculous.

SARAH FERGUSON: Devastated and demoralised by their start to the season last year's champions are on the ropes.

(Excerpt of footage from Rugby match)

COMMENTATOR: Not since Brisbane in 99 and Melbourne in 2000 have the premiers lost the opening four matches at the start of the new season. For the home side it's the first game of the year, on their home ground.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: The relentless violence of the game creates an obvious problem, how do you create gladiators who don't take risks off the field?

(Excerpt continued)

COMMENTATOR: And it is taken by Kurt Gidley.

(End of Excerpt)

BRIAN SMITH, COACH NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: We've got Kurt Gidley who's 87, 88 kilos and he gets hit by three guys sometimes who are in excess of 100 kilos going the other direction all trying to hurt him, not just stop him, but hurt him. That's the nature of the game. Now anyone that does that for a job is a risk taker. Willingly loves a risk and challenges himself on risk.

(Excerpt continued)

COMMENTATOR: The ball comes out backwards to Houston.

(End of Excerpt)

STEVE BURRASTON, CEO NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: When we want them on the field we want them to be aggressive. They've got to make tackles, they've got to be fearless, then we want them to do things that other people don't do. So we attract an aggressive, young, risk taking male.

We give him a shower, put a suit on him and then say now we want you to be you know a submissive male. We want you to go out there and not have any problems, it's very difficult to do that.

(Excerpt of footage from dressing room)

BRIAN SMITH, COACH NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: The second half is always the hardest. Let's see what you are made of.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: In the dressing room at half time, the knights are leading 10-6 but there's no let up from coach Brian Smith.

(Excerpt continued)

BRIAN SMITH, COACH NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: Or do you just soft-c**k it and find another f***ing reason, you're too young, we're not experienced, we're still a f****ing team getting it together? I'm afraid it's all over boys. I am afraid no one ones going to buy that, not even me anymore.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Having incited his young charges to put everything on the line for victory Smith goes out to watch them thrash the premiers.

(Excerpt of footage of rugby match continued)

COMMENTATOR: The Knights have terrorized Manly on the fringe and out wide, Kurt Gidley, one of the best support players in the game.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Exhausted by a physical contest as hard as any in sport, Newcastle's young warriors are ready to taste the spoils of victory.

(Excerpt of footage of Newcastle Knights in dressing room singing team song)

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Managing their emotions on the field is one thing, as history proves managing what happens off the field is much harder.

BRIAN SMITH, COACH NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: We need to split that thing where you're a risk taker here son, brother, whatever and we admire and laud you for, all of that risk taking and you're so good at it, but hold on a minute when you come off there can you just not take any risks? Don't be like the rest of the male under 25, 30 population, don't go out there and get on the drink and take risks. And that's hard.

SARAH FERGUSON: Just how hard it is to manage young players, became obvious for last year's champions on the day they launched their 2009 season.

At the centre of Manly's off-field drama their two key players Brett Stewart and Anthony Watmough.

Sarah Durazza, went to the launch with her father, one of the club's sponsors.

SARAH DURAZZA: It was actually, a lot of fun. Like you know I was sitting talking to Brett Stewart and um Matt Orford, he's an awesome captain. We were having a lot of fun talking about me when I used to do pageants and how I won Miss Freshwater and stuff.

SARAH FERGUSON: Durazza is a Charity Ambassador, and not a regular follower of football.

SARAH FERGUSON (to Sarah Durazza): Was there a lot of alcohol?

SARAH DURAZZA: There was a lot of alcohol definitely.

(Excerpt of footage from Manly season launch)

PETER PETERS, EX-RUGBY PLAYER: He's revelling in his man of the match award, let's give him a welcome, Anthony Chock Watmough.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Anthony Watmough was supposed be one of the stars of the event, recent hero of the world club championship and a member of the Australian Rugby league team, Watmough got progressively drunk through the afternoon.

SARAH DURAZZA: Well, he was slurring his words. He couldn't stand straight. Um it was pretty obvious that he was intoxicated. Like, you know he had the unbuttoned shirts. And like you know, he didn't look very presentable at all. And he, I don't think he was very happy with the fact that I didn't know he was a footballer as well because he had intruded into a conversation with me, Brett Stewart and um Matt Orford.

SARAH FERGUSON: So what sort of language did he use?

SARAH DURAZZA: The language that was used was like you know f* this f* that. He kept going up to my father going you should be disgusted in your daughter and you know just putting me completely down saying that I'm a piece of shit. He did say to my dad how can you let your daughter walk out of the house in a dress like that? And yes the dress was above the knee but I don't have to justify myself to anybody.

(Excerpt of footage from Manly season launch)

PETER PETERS, EX-RUGBY PLAYER: You have set the bar very high for 2009. Congratulations.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Did you find that he was aggressive towards you?

SARAH DURAZZA: Yes, definitely. I was quite scared. I was very much in shock after the whole incident and during the incident as well.

SARAH FERGUSON: It ended in an altercation between Watmough and Durazza's father outside on the balcony.

SARAH DURAZZA: There was just a bit of violence that happened. You know my dad was hit in the face.

SARAH FERGUSON: How was he hit?

SARAH DURAZZA: It was only very slightly like in the jaw, just under here, so.

SARAH FERGUSON: And who was that?

SARAH DURAZZA: Anthony Watmough had done that to my father.

SARAH FERGUSON: He punched him?


(Excerpt of footage from NRL advertisement)

SONG: Ever since he was young he thought he'd go far.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Brett Stewart presented the NRL with an even bigger problem, the face of rugby league for 2009 was drunk at the launch.

Later that evening he was involved in an incident with a 17-year-old girl outside his apartment building. Stewart now faces charges of indecent assault. He denies the allegations which will be tried in court.

Despite being drunk at the launch both Stewart and Watmough were at the next training session, preparing to play in Manly's first match of the season.

ROY MASTERS, SPORTS WRITER AND FORMER COACH: Their whole persona, the whole reputation of the club, the whole ethos of the club is we don't care what you think, ah we know you hate us and so here stick this.

(Excerpt of footage of press conference)

DAVID GALLOP, CEO NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE: This morning we have met with representatives of the Manly club.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: It was left to the NRL to step in and penalize the club and suspend Stewart for being drunk.

(Excerpt continued)

DAVID GALLOP, CEO NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE: We intend to impose a fine of $100,000 on the club. By their own admission the drinking at that function their season launch was unacceptable.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Watmough was fined by Manly but not made to apologize to Sarah Durazza.

SARAH FERGUSON (to David Gallop): Is it acceptable that Anthony Watmough hasn't apologised to her yet?


SARAH FERGUSON: Do you think that he should?


SARAH FERGUSON: Are you, do you think it's necessary for the NRL to take steps to ensure that happens?


SARAH DURAZZA: I didn't deserve to be spoken down to and treated like I was a nobody and a piece of crap. That's how I could pretty much put it. But with males talking over females and you know doing that in public it's violence against women. It's verbal abuse.

SARAH FERGUSON: Does the NRL have a problem with Players attitudes towards women?

STEVE BURRASTON, CEO NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: I think they recognise that there may be an image that Rugby League has in its attitude towards women and I think some of that's quite founded over the years. I think it is being taken seriously by most Clubs. I wouldn't say all Clubs, but most Clubs and there lies the problem.

SARAH FERGUSON: The Newcastle Knights have been embroiled in their own controversies in the past.

Rugby league legend, Andrew Johns still advises the players at his old club.

Johns' public admission two years ago that he used ecstasy and other drugs while playing for Newcastle rocked the entire code.

STEVE BURRASTON, CEO NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: That certainly woke us up that you know if it can happen to the best player in the world, well certainly it can happen to another, to other players.

SARAH FERGUSON: Two years ago Newcastle were a club in disarray, they were bottom of the table, losing faith with their fans and losing sponsors.

The incoming CEO Steve Burraston decided the club had to change.

STEVE BURRASTON, CEO NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: It was all about culture. It was about introducing a new culture. So we had to get rid of any chance that our players were going to fall into illicit substances, that's probably the biggest no no that we had to address.

SARAH FERGUSON: Coach Brian Smith was brought in to rebuild the team after the departure of Andrew Johns, he recognized the club's problems started with alcohol and the drinking culture.

BRIAN SMITH, COACH NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: It is my job to sell the concept of changing the amount of alcohol that people were drinking, that sort of "let your hair down is how, that's the only way we can we can really bond together." We're learning how to do that.

SARAH FERGUSON: Smith knows that Newcastle's approach isn't supported by all the teams in the NRL.

BRIAN SMITH, COACH NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: There probably are still one or two coaches who are still living by the train hard, drink hard, play hard motto.

SARAH FERGUSON: Who are they?

BRIAN SMITH, COACH NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: Ah I'm not going there baby.

SARAH FERGUSON: Like most clubs, Newcastle had to learn the hard way. Some of the current players including Captain Kurt Gidley lived through one of Newcastle's most controversial episodes.

(Excerpt of footage of Rugby match)

CROWD (chanting): Come on Newcastle. Come on Newcastle.

SARAH FERGUSON: In February 2005, before the current coach and CEO arrived, Newcastle were playing a pre season match against the Penrith Panthers in Bathurst.

The game coincided with the first weekend of term for students at Charles Sturt University.

(End of Excerpt)

CAROLINE: There were new students, there were old students, there were locals, everyone was out because it's such a massive night in Bathurst. I mean everyone was it's fair to say pretty annihilated having, just having an awesome time.

SARAH FERGUSON: Caroline, as we'll call her, had just moved into the university dorm.

CAROLINE: My recollection is I mean leaning on my brother, him taking me up the stairs. And he said to me the next day that he'd actually made a point of not locking my door so that, in case I needed to get out in the night. In case I needed to be sick or go to the toilet or get a glass of water.

SARAH FERGUSON: The Knights were staying in a hotel next door, 12 of the players broke curfew and went on a rampage around the dorm.

KURT GIDLEY, CAPTAIN NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: I remember it was early shut up we ended up having a few beers back at the hotel in a room, and I think it was actually down the road. It might have been next door. I think there was actually a few uni students having a beer, so we thought it might be alright just to go down.

And it was actually outdoors for a start. There didn't seem to be too much harm in it at the time but obviously there was a few things that weren't right.

SARAH FERGUSON: One of the players peeled off from the group and walked into a girl's room.

CAROLINE: As I'm lying there face down, arms out on the bed, head on the pillow, he climbs on top of me and straddles me and sits um, sort of on my thighs.

He started to rub my back and like just using the word makes me feel sick but he was caressing my back and saying in like this sort of um, soft voice, "roll over, roll over, you'll enjoy it, just roll over, just roll over". He kept saying that "just roll over, just roll over."

And then he started to put his hands around me between my body and the mattress like in front of me, my front. And doing the same things to the front of me that he was doing to my back.

He, he put his hands down to, I don't know, what do you say? Touched my private parts.

SARAH FERGUSON: So when that happened what did you do then?

CAROLINE: He obviously picked up then that I was really starting to get stressed cause I was saying you know get off, get off, who are you, get out, who are you, get off. And really started to try, try and sort of struggle, like get up on my elbows and try and get him off. And eventually he got off and walked out the door and left the door open.

(Excerpt of footage from ABC News, 2005)

REPORTER: For a place where many students study communications, it was hard to get a word out of anybody today.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: The story of the Newcastle players' drunken night got out the next day, the media quickly focused on rumours that rookie player Dane Tilse may have been involved in an assault on a student.

CAROLINE: I went into where my brother was and told him what happened.

SARAH FERGUSON: What did your brother say? Did he think that you should go to the police?

CAROLINE: (Crying) My poor brother. He felt so bad for not locking that door. He felt so bad. Um he didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to do. I just wanted everyone just to shut up about it really.

SARAH FERGUSON: Caroline initially went to the police.

(Excerpt of News footage)

POLICE OFFICER: It is a criminal investigation, we have interviewed the alleged victim and we are in the process of interviewing a number of witnesses.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: But she decided not to press charges.

CAROLINE: There is no way. It's not like if he was just another guy. I would be going up against him. If I'm going up against Dane Tilse, I'm going up against him, the football team, the NRL, their fans, I'm not going to take that on.

(Excerpt of News footage)

REPORTER: Hit by a $100,000 fine by the NRL, the club in turn then slapped on fines totalling $50,000 on 12 players.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Dane Tilse told Four Corners he went into Caroline's room but only tickled her back.

The club sacked him and he was de-registered by the NRL for a year.

Steve Burraston wasn't at Newcastle at the time, but he'd coached Tilse in the past.

STEVE BURRASTON, CEO NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: He was 17-year-old when I was coaching him and I, I couldn't imagine him being doing the wrong thing, I couldn't that was a hell of a shock to me. I know he's gone to Canberra. I know he's playing good footy and I know he's never had a problem since. I think that you'll find in most of these cases that there's a common denominator and that's alcohol.

SARAH FERGUSON: Do you think it would happen like that now? Do you think if you were on a pre-season game away, with the way the club is now, do you think something like that would happen?

KURT GIDLEY, CAPTAIN NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: No way. No, no, not in the last couple of years. Ah we've got things, we've got steps in place where ah, if we go somewhere we go as a group. There's no there's no little groups that are breaking off going in different directions. There's curfews in place, um you know it's, we've come a long way since then.

SARAH FERGUSON: If some young footballers mistakenly think all women want to have sex with them, Charmyne Palavi, is one who doesn't necessarily discourage the idea.

She's getting ready for a night on the town with her girlfriends, applying the finishing touches, bronzer to her legs.

SARAH FERGUSON (to Charmayne Palavi): What's the appeal of those boys though?

SARAH FERGUSON: What's the appeal of the footy boys?

CHARMYNE PALAVI: They've just got really good bodies, they're a bit cheeky and naughty and they're pretty confident but mostly their bodies. They've got great bodies so.

SARAH FERGUSON: The Normanby is a Brisbane institution, and a favourite haunt of league players.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: The women that go there know that footy players go there. Throughout the night they just get drunker and drunker, you see the girls, they'll disappear for a little while, a guy and a girl. If you're anywhere near the toilets in the Normanby you'll see them go in.

SARAH FERGUSON: So what's going on in the toilets?


SARAH FERGUSON: Charmyne says she sleeps with footballers on her terms.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: It's consensual for a start. I'm not drunk or on drugs and it's in, has an element of class to it do you know what I mean? It's either in the privacy of my own bedroom or in a hotel room or their house, not in the toilet or the back of a car or you know at some player's house on the lounge and everyone's watching and that.

SARAH FERGUSON: She doesn't drink much, on one occasion two years ago when she did get drunk, on her birthday, she woke up in her hotel room with a football player she didn't know.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: I woke up because something wasn't right. There was someone inside me and touching me and he was on top of me. And as drunk as I was and as tired as I was, and passed out, I was trying to push him off me. But I couldn't, I didn't have the strength to push him off me.

And I was drifting in and out of consciousness and that and I think the alcohol and me being really, really tired, I just couldn't do anything about it.

SARAH FERGUSON: Charmyne told us she was raped by a well-known NRL player, she didn't even consider going to the police.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: Why would you go forward? You're about to be ridiculed and your name dragged through the mud and you will be made out to be something that you're not and that you asked for it.

SARAH FERGUSON: She says she was able to put it out of her mind, and it certainly didn't stop her pursuing other football players.

Football is her life, so much so she acts as a sort of clearing house putting players and girls in touch through her Facebook.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: I know it goes both ways 'cause there's a lot of people that contact me from the players' side of things. I have players contacting me going, you know I'm getting a lot of friend requests from your page, they're all female, they're all hot, keep them coming, so they don't they don't seem to mind.

(Excerpt of photographs from girl's Facebook pages)

SARAH FERGUSON: The girls are equally direct.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: There's heaps of girls who will put pictures, you know including myself, you know you're in your bikinis and things like that, but the boys put pictures of themselves with no shirts on, you know the girl, I mean I love it, the girls love it, we comment on it all the time.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: After Facebook comes the phone.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: They ask you for your phone number, then it's funny they send you a photo, like they're very quick to send you a photo and these aren't photos of their just their face because you already know what they look like.

(Excerpt of footage of Charmyne showing pictures she has received on her phone)

SARAH FERGUSON: Charmyne's been getting texts all afternoon from different NRL players.

SARAH FERGUSON: Ah right. That's pretty full on. Sorry.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: This? I know. That's what you get heaps of.

SARAH FERGUSON: You're kidding. Sorry. The messages are pornographic.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: That's what they send the most of. You're very hard pressed to get a picture of them just with no shirt on.
(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: There is an even more sinister side to this technology, Charmyne claims to have been shown a video recently, by a young player on his mobile phone.

CHARMYNE PALAVI: He goes we picked up this one girl and there was like seven of us on her and everything and he goes to me, and we um, but I said you're going to get in trouble for that type of thing, like you can't do that. And he goes, please, he goes we just filmed her to say that she consented to it.

And that freaked me out. This girl was actually in her 20's and told me what they did to her. He said they made her put bunny ears on cause Easter's coming up and made her give head to all of the players one after the other. Made, like I don't understand the term, like we "made her do it."

SARAH FERGUSON: Yeah, and do you know who she is?

CHARMYNE PALAVI: No, I asked him who she was, not knowing that I would even know her, and he goes oh just some slurry from around Cronulla.

DAVID GALLOP, CEO NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE: To the extent that um, young women are finding themselves in a degrading situation um, of course we're appalled about that and um, we do what we can to educate our players that that is wrong.

SARAH FERGUSON: This is an NRL seminar on consent, young players from Newcastle's under 20 team are shown two different stories.

(Excerpt of footage from NRL seminar)

MARK O'NEILL, RUGBY PLAYER: So we'll have a look at the DVD, Mattie, if you can work that away.

SARAH FERGUSON: In the first scenario, a young woman goes home with two men and agrees to sex with one of them, not both.

(End of Excerpt)

(Excerpt of footage from training video, one man is seen leaving the room, and another sneaking in)

WOMAN: I thought it was you!

MAN 1: What the f***?

WOMAN: F*** you!

(End of Excerpt)

(Excerpt of footage from NRL seminar continued)

NIGEL VAGANA, RUGBY PLAYER: What do you think of the girl's role in this ah scenario? Anyone? Throw it in.

PLAYER 1: She put out first.


PLAYER 1: She put out first.

NIGEL VAGANA, RUGBY PLAYER: She put out first. Yep, put it up there. Anything else?

PLAYER 2: She flirted with both of them.

NIGEL VAGANA, RUGBY PLAYER: She flirted with both of them. Yeah. What about ah this guy right? He's going to get in trouble. You think he's going to get in trouble?


NIGEL VAGANA, RUGBY PLAYER: What about the birthday boy? Will he get in trouble too?


PLAYER 3: Depends how good his lawyer is.

NIGEL VAGANA, RUGBY PLAYER: Depends how good his lawyer is. We'll watch another one.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: In the second version a drunken man is subjected to homosexual rape, the responses are very different.

(Excerpt continued)

NIGEL VAGANA, RUGBY PLAYER: All right, boys, um birthday boy, what do you reckon? What do you think? How's he feeling? What happened? What happened to his night?

PLAYERS: Shattered.

NIGEL VAGANA, RUGBY PLAYER: Shattered. Do you think he had too much to drink and asked for trouble?


NIGEL VAGANA, RUGBY PLAYER: What else? What about how he got into that situation and all that sort of stuff?

PLAYER 4: You don't really asked for trouble if you have too much to drink and get raped by a bloke. You don't ask for ask for that.

MARK O'NEILL, RUGBY PLAYER: Can we see that there's some sort of double standard that may apply here? The girl's gone out to have a drink. No one said that she didn't ask for it but yet the male goes out and has a drink and it's crystal clear that he didn't ask for it.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: The NRL says it is making progress, but judging by the final answer from this young player on recent scandals involving group sex, they still have a long way to go.

(Excerpt continued)

SIMON WILLIAMS, NYC RUGBY PLAYER: It's not during the act, it's the way you treat them after it. Most of them could have been avoided, if they had put them in a cab and said thanks or that sort of thing not just kicked her out and called her a dirty whatever. It's how you treat them afterwards that can cover a lot of that stuff up.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: In his 2006 Book "Bad Boys", former coach Roy Masters writes frankly about how group sex was a way to create closer bonds between team mates.

SARAH FERGUSON: What role does group sex play in team bonding?

ROY MASTERS, SPORTS WRITER AND FORMER COACH: Ah I don't think it plays any role at all now, but in the past there could be little doubt that um, a girl that might've accommodated three or four players was all part of players becoming a closer-knit unit, for want of a better word. I do think it in the past may well have been a focus of team players um, relating to each other.

SARAH FERGUSON: Did you condone it as a coach?


SARAH FERGUSON: And yet you can see that it had certain benefits?

ROY MASTERS, SPORTS WRITER AND FORMER COACH: I didn't say ever say that it had certain benefits. I said it has been a vehicle, it has been a vehicle of team bonding, it has been perceived as a vehicle of team bonding in the past.

SARAH FERGUSON: And what makes you think it's no longer the case?

ROY MASTERS, SPORTS WRITER AND FORMER COACH: I think that the um, the Bulldog situation brought all of that to a head, that people were just saying this is just dead set not on.

SARAH FERGUSON: That "Bulldogs situation" was the group sex scandal in 2004 at a Coffs Harbour resort, that exposed this practise to a horrified public.

It sparked a police investigation, most of the team were interviewed but no charges were laid.

It was revealed that during the tour a number of Bulldogs players had sex with a young woman whom they insulted and finally discarded.

Bulldogs players commented at the time that gang banging is nothing new and "some of the boys love a bun" their nick name for group sex.

In the end, with no criminal charges to answer, the NRL was left to explain how this tawdry and demeaning practise had become part of the game's culture.

SARAH FERGUSON: Was there no corporate memory, corporate knowledge in the NRL that this was a part of the culture of the game?

DAVID GALLOP, CEO NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE: Oh perhaps there was in some respects but we're not um part of club land and to that extent I don't think we would have the corporate knowledge that perhaps those in who have been club land or are in club land have got.

(Excerpt of footage from NRL advertisement)

SONG: And another thing I am discovering lately, I am a bit crazy for my rugby league team.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: If the NRL or the clubs were surprised by the Bulldogs incident, they shouldn't have been.

Four Corners can reveal that a remarkably similar incident had happened two years earlier, it involves the Cronulla Sharks and some of the biggest names in the game.

SARAH FERGUSON: Would you be would you be angry to learn that Cronulla had kept these, this incident from you?

DAVID GALLOP, CEO NATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE: It wouldn't be the first time that um, issues have been kept from the league.

SARAH FERGUSON: In February 2002 the Cronulla sharks took a large group of players on a pre-season tour to New Zealand.

In Christchurch, they played against The Warriors.

Soon afterwards there were reports of an incident with a young woman at the team's hotel.

(Excerpt of News footage)

REPORTER: The Cronulla sharks were in action in Christchurch last Sunday night.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: It generated a few brief news stories in New Zealand and Australia.

STEVE ROGERS, FORMER CEO CRONULLA SHARKS: We asked if they were aware of any incident that may have sparked such allegations and they are certainly not aware of anything.

SARAH FERGUSON: Four minutes of news footage, a blanket denial from the team's management and the story disappeared from view.

But not for the young woman involved, seven years later the pain is still raw.

CLARE: I do get really upset sometimes yeah but I just. I don't think about it and um I still feel that it's my fault.
(crying) But I know it's not, but I feel that way, so I just try not to think about it otherwise I get too upset.

SARAH FERGUSON: You still think it might be your fault?

CLARE: Just nothing ever happened and um, no one's on my side, so that's how that's just how I feel.

SARAH FERGUSON: In 2002, 19-year-old Clare, as we'll call her, was working part time as a waitress at the Racecourse Hotel on the outskirts of Christchurch.

After finishing work Clare went with two of the players back to their room, one of them started kissing her.

CLARE: I didn't want to you know, make a big deal out of a kiss and even though it was rough and disgusting and I was a piece of meat even at that stage, but it was you know it was you know, it was nothing it was just a kiss.

SARAH FERGUSON: Over the next two hours, at least 12 players and staff came in to the room, six of them had sex with Clare, the others watched. Five days after the event Clare made a complaint to police.

NEVILLE JENKINS, DETECTIVE SGT CHRISTCHURCH POLICE: It's a case that I do remember because of its extraordinary allegation.

SARAH FERGUSON: Neville Jenkins was one of the officers on the case.

Four weeks after the complaint was made, 40 players and staff from Cronulla were interviewed by police.

In their graphic descriptions, those present said she had consented to each and every act. No charges were laid.

SARAH FERGUSON (to Neville Jenkins): So it is the case that a large number of players and others in the Cronulla Sharks confirmed that group sex activity had taken place in that hotel?

NEVILLE JENKINS, DETECTIVE SGT CHRISTCHURCH POLICE: There were people involved with the Cronulla Sharks and their supporting crew confirmed that there was sexual activity with this young woman.

SARAH FERGUSON: Four Corners doesn't say that what took place in room 21 of the Racecourse hotel was sexual assault.

But a woman involved in degrading group sex can still be traumatised whether she consents or not.

In the course of the investigation, Jenkins formed an opinion of Clare.

NEVILLE JENKINS, DETECTIVE SGT CHRISTCHURCH POLICE: Um she was a nice girl. She was young, um naïve, not worldly, just a growing up teenager. But even for 19 she was quite young I felt.

CLARE: They were massive, like ah big Rugby players, I felt that I just had no idea what to do.

There was always hands on me and there was always um, if one person had stopped, someone was touching me and doing something else. There was never a point where I was not being handled.

Every time I looked up, there would be more and more people in the room and um there's lot, lots of guys in the room watching, ah maybe two or three that were on the bed that were doing stuff to me.

SARAH FERGUSON: Can you try and tell me what some of those things were?

CLARE: They flipped me over quite a bit and got out their penises and would put like, put them on my face and stuff and like maybe two guys would rub them on my face and things like that and yeah.

SARAH FERGUSON: What were the others doing while that was happening?

CLARE: They were I don't like know how to say it, um but masturbating yeah themselves while watching.

SARAH FERGUSON: The player she remembers best was there from the beginning.

CLARE: I only remember this whole time, I only remember one player definitely, it was Mattie Johns.

(Excerpt of footage from Logie Awards)

LOGIE VOICEOVER: Accepting the show's fifth Logie are.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Matthew Johns is an NRL personality, he was 30 at the time, a former Knights and State of Origin player, he's best known now for his role on the Channel Nine Footy Show.

He told Four Corners he knew that one day this incident would catch up with him.

CLARE: He laughed and he joked and he very loud and boisterous and thought it was hilarious and you know kept it going.

SARAH FERGUSON: Matthew Johns and fellow player Brett Firman told Four Corners they were the first players to have sex with Clare, Firman said "she was up for it a hundred per cent".

Johns denies he kept it going, saying when he had finished he quote "took a step back."

CLARE: They never spoke to me, they spoke just to themselves, amongst themselves, laughing and thinking it was really funny. When you have sex with someone and it's nice and you talk and you touch and this was awful. This was nothing like, nothing like that.

SARAH FERGUSON: Some players even came into the room through the bathroom window.

CLARE: I had my eyes shut a lot of it and when I opened my eyes there was just a long line at the end of the bed.

SARAH FERGUSON: What was going through your mind when this was happening?

CLARE: I thought that I was, that I was nothing. I thought I was worthless and I thought I was nothing. And I think I was I was in shock. I didn't scream and they used a lot of like mental power over me and, and belittled me and made me feel really small like I was just a little old woman.

SARAH FERGUSON: Towards the end Paul Gallen, the current captain of the Cronulla sharks, went in to see what was happening. Gallen told us it was pretty much all over by then, but nothing bad had happened anyway.

After two hours it ended.

CLARE: I think maybe one of the guys said she's had enough, or something along those lines, like alright guys let's wrap it up she's had enough. And so I put my clothes on and walked out as, yeah.

SARAH FERGUSON: Did anybody talk to you while you were putting your clothes back on?

CLARE: No no one. I was nothing.

SARAH FERGUSON: Afterwards in the car park, Matthew Johns told Four Corners, he went up to Clare and said he was sorry about the other guys coming into the room.

The players continued with their careers, but seven years ago when the Cronulla caravan moved on from Christchurch, it left a young woman alone to deal with confusion and pain.

CLARE: Well for years and years afterwards I was, I was drinking a lot and um crying a lot and losing a lot of friends and just doing quite destructive things to myself and to other people.

SARAH FERGUSON: Did you continue with your studies?

CLARE: I tried to, but I couldn't.

SARAH FERGUSON: Did you did you know what was going on?

CLARE: No, no, no I, I just thought I was, I just thought I was a useless person that I couldn't like. Um I didn't yeah, didn't care about anything and I didn't really care what was happening.

SARAH FERGUSON: How long did that last for?

CLARE: Maybe four or five, five years or more to the end of it um, I wasn't so much drinking heaps and heaps, I was more scared to go out of the house. I was a bit of recluse, didn't want to go out and see the world after that.

NEVILLE JENKINS, DETECTIVE SGT CHRISTCHURCH POLICE: Yeah, I saw a young woman struggling with life. Um I didn't know her prior to this episode but presumably um, I'm led to believe that this is as a result of what happened to her at that time.

SARAH FERGUSON: And has she called you for help at any time during these years?


SARAH FERGUSON: And in what sort of state has she been?


SARAH FERGUSON: The New Zealand Accident and Compensation Commission found that Clare was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Psychiatrists reported that she was suicidal, had cut her wrists several times and bought a rope to hang herself with.

The ACC funded treatment for her and gave her a weekly payment in compensation.

SARAH FERGUSON: Do you think it will ever go away for you?

CLARE: No never ever, no.

SARAH FERGUSON: Why speak now?

CLARE: I wanted at least their wives or girlfriends to know what they had done at the very least, yeah.

SARAH FERGUSON: Why did you want them to know?

CLARE: Part of me wanted them to know because I was so angry and I wanted their lives destroyed like mine was and part of me wanted them to know so that they could go and meet the better people that wouldn't treat them like that yep.

SARAH FERGUSON: What do you think about those people now?

CLARE: What, if I had a gun I'd shoot them right now. (Crying) I hate them, they're disgusting. I want them dead. I hate them so much when I think about them, but I don't think about them.

(Excerpt of footage from television apology)

MATTHEW JOHNS: It caused all parties enormous pain and embarrassment.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: Matthew Johns used Channel Nine's Footy Show last week to make a pre-emptive apology.

(Excerpt continued)

MATTHEW JOHNS: Um, for me personally it has put my family through enormous anguish and embarrassment and has once again, and for that I m just, can't say sorry enough.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: But neither he nor any of the players we contacted asked about Clare.

(Excerpt continued)

MATTHEW JOHNS: There were no charges laid. But there has been a lot of pain and embarrassment to a lot of people.

PAUL VAUTIN, FOOTY SHOW HOST: Alright mate, well said. Alright, let's get on with the show.

(End of Excerpt)

SARAH FERGUSON: This young team, the Newcastle Knights, Matthew Johns' old club, suggests there is a better future for Rugby league for any team that actually wants it.

The clubs and the NRL have to clean out the old culture of exploitation and disdain, for the game and for women like Caroline too.

CAROLINE: I have the vague hope that maybe something will change. That every season there isn't going to be another girl hiding with the curtains shut and the blinds down, hoping like hell that her name and her face isn't going to get out in the media.

That it's not going to happen over and over and that the football players involved and named aren't just going to go straight back on the paddock the next weekend, the next Saturday or the next Friday night.

[End of transcript]

Please note: This transcript is produced by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcript.