Wigan rugby league star Ben Flower finally speaks out about punch
Often in sport, a split second of uncharacteristic madness can have huge ramifications. For Wigan prop forward Ben Flower, that split second has haunted him for three months.
He became the first player ever to be sent off in a Grand Final after punching St Helens’ Lance Hohaia, and was punished with a 13-match suspension from the game and the 27-year-old has since revealed he is “devastated” by his actions.
“I think about it every day,” Flower said. “If I could take it back, I would, every day of the week. The things that have come off the back of it have been hard. But letting people down was the hardest – the players, the club and my family. It’s been tough for me, but it’s been tougher for them.”
When the punishment was delivered, St Helens captain Paul Wellens was quick to respond, and touched on the fact that it wasn’t in the players’ character, though eluded to the fact that the player warranted a punishment for his actions.
“I’m not surprised. It’s a given it was going to be a lengthy suspension. It was a pretty unsavoury incident. He’s said himself he is very disappointed, but it’s quite clear the RFL have sent a message that that type of behaviour won’t be tolerated,” Wellens said.
“I’ve met Ben and he’s a really nice lad and he’s said it’s really out of character for him and I’m sure he’ll be hurting.
“Rugby league people in general are quite forgiving. There will be a lot of scrutiny when he returns but he will go away and serve his punishment and after that he will be integrated back into the Wigan team as normal.”
Flower himself has admitted that he didn’t know what he was thinking at the time in what was a highly-charged atmosphere where sometimes, players’ reactions often get the better of them.
“I think the frustration of knocking on, then getting hit from the side made me react in a way I’ve never reacted before,” he said. “The game was so intense, and I’ve naturally just thrown a punch. I’ve got no recollection of throwing the second. I don’t know why I threw it. I don’t know why I couldn’t hold myself back.”
The Warriors went on to lose the game 14-6, and Flowers’ absence on the field clearly had an impact on the scoreline. For the player, when he saw the red card, he admitted he was gutted.
“I was devastated. It hit home then, letting my teammates down – they had to play the rest of the Grand Final on their own. I went in to the changing rooms, and wanted to be on my own so I went in to the shower rooms, away from the cameras, and sat there thinking to myself – what have I done – repeating in my head – what have I done?”
Nothing could prepare him for the fallout that followed, as he became infamous in sporting circles the world over.
“That was when it really hit hardest, knowing I was hated by everyone at the time, knowing you’re trending on Twitter. For me, as the type of person who wants to be friends with everyone, that’s where I started thinking. ‘this is bad, how am I going to get over it, get through this, and tell people how sorry I am?”
Admirably, Hohaia holds no grudge about the incident, something which Flower is immensely grateful for.
“I can’t thank St Helens and Lance enough,” he said. “I’d look forward to meeting him, and hope there will be a handshake and a chat. I know he didn’t take it to heart.”
When he returns for the Warriors who are 3/1 favourites with Coral to win next season’s Super League Grand Final, Flower is keen to right his wrong and admits that he has a lot to make up to the fans and the club he represents.
“Knowing that I’ve lost them the Grand Final – that’s the toughest thing. I know I didn’t just spoil the fans’ day, but their whole season.
“I will give everything I’ve got to hopefully get us back there this season. I will try my hardest to be the best player I can.”