A Fijian rugby player who punched a referee, knocking him to the ground, has been banned from the sport for six years. Naitasiri Under-19 rugby forward Keresi Keresi Maya is now blocked from playing the sport anywhere on earth, after the Fijian Rugby Union confirmed his ban this week.

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What’s more, it’s being reported that both the Fiji Rugby Union and the Fiji Rugby Referees Association had asked for a life ban, and may yet appeal the six-year sentence. He is also facing criminal charges in relation to the matter.

The attack caused up-roar in rugby circles. The incident occurred during a Skipper Cup U19 match between Naitasiri and Tailevu at Ratu Cakobau Park in Nausori Fiji. Maya blindsided referee Peni Talemaivavalagi after disagreeing with a decision. The cheap shot dropped the referee to ground, breaking his nose.

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The game was called off and the Fijian Rugby Union (FRU) awarded the match to Tailevu.

It looks like Maya is likely to find a home in rugby league and eventually, the NRL, despite the attack.

According to Fiji journalist Filipe Naikaso, he was set to take up a contract with the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL, a move delayed by the pandemic. “The U19 Naitasiri rugby player that punched the ref yesterday was offered a 3 year contract with NRL club Cronulla Sharks. He couldn’t leave because of COVID-19 so he was playing for Naitasiri while awaiting word from Australia.”

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Fiji National Rugby League interim chief executive Don Natab said: “There is a rehabilitative process and for all offenders in the rugby league competition will go through rehabilitative measures before they can re-enter the field and the same will be applied in Keresi’s case when he returns. He is a son of rugby league and we do understand that he has a bright future in front of him. As far as rugby league is concerned, it is a sport about our participants most importantly our players.”

“If the clubs care about their players, then we will take that into consideration. There are a lot of factors that will make up the decision regarding Keresi’s return to play. We have to understand he is 19 to 20 years old and he has a long future ahead of him and he might as well be the next Fiji Bati come the 2025 World Cup.”

Former Fijian international Nemani Nadolo weighed in on the incident on social media, writing: “I hope that young ref who got king hit in a local game back home is ok. Match officials can frustrate us in the heat of the moment. It’s our duty as players to make sure their safety during the game is paramount. Violence doesn’t solve anything.”

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