By STAFF REPORTERS
Disgraced Australian rugby league star John Hopoate faces growing calls to be banned for life after he was found to have stuck his fingers up the anuses of three players.
Wests Tigers player Hopoate has been suspended for 12 matches for a "disgraceful act" on the field - the heaviest ban Australia's National Rugby League tribunal has imposed in four seasons.
But others - including Graham Lowe and former Wallaby-turned-commentator Peter Fitzsimons - say the penalty is too light and Hopoate should be banned forever for his "despicable" acts.
As the furore continued yesterday, further complaints emerged. Australian test star and Broncos player Wendell Sailor revealed that he had been "jabbed" in another match twice and that his team-mate Mick De Vere had also fallen victim.
It now appears Hopoate's actions will not be reported to Australian police and the North Queensland Cowboys club wants the issue to go away.
If Hopoate had violated a person on the street in New Zealand in that way, he would have been charged with sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection, punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
But Hopoate claimed he was only giving the players "wedgies" - touching them to put them off their game - that such antics happen all the time, and that the police should not be involved. "You get wedgies all the time, and jabbed in the stork. I'm a great believer that what happens on the field should stay on the field."
But the 12-match suspension could reveal a far deeper problem for the NRL, with Hopoate's coach Terry Lamb estimating that such incidents occur up to 10 times a game.
Wests Tigers plan to appeal the suspension.
North Queensland players Peter Jones and Glenn Morrison gave detailed testimony to the tribunal of how Hopoate had inserted his fingers into their anuses after they had been tackled during the match at Townsville last Saturday night.
Cowboys captain Paul Bowman accused Hopoate of doing the same thing to him after a tackle.
Lowe said on Holmes last night that Hopoate's behaviour was despicable.
"The guy's a grub. He should be kicked out of the game."
Peter Fitzsimons said the case was at the bottom of the barrel in the sports hall of shame.
"It's disgusting. This is the absolute bottom of the barrel. There's an unwritten code ... At the very top of the barrel you have got the king hits, fisticuffs, I hit you, you hit me. A little bit lower down you have got kicking, lower down still you have got eye-gouging, testicle-pulling, that sort of thing. This, nobody has ever heard of it."
Before they deliberated on the verdict, NRL commissioner Jim Hall told the panel:
"In 45 years of involvement with rugby league I've never come across a more disgusting allegation."
But in Auckland last night, former players Matthew Ridge and Marc Ellis played down the incident.
Ridge told the Herald he did not believe calling in the police was necessary, but said he wouldn't do that kind of thing himself.
Marc Ellis agreed: "It wasn't a sexual act, it was lighthearted."