He?s still my mate
By STEVE SPINKS
FORMER NSW rugby union player Milton Thaiday believes Justin Harrison's penalty for his racist slur against a South African player in a Super 12 match is fair.
Thaiday, who now lives in Lismore, backed his former Waratah team-mate despite Harrison admitting to a racist slur against Cats player Chumani Booi over a week ago.
On Sunday night, Harrison was given a three match suspension and was also fined $20,000.
However, the SANZAR judicial committee suspended payment of the fine upon the condition that the former Southern Cross University rugby player completes an anti-discrimination course and serve 30 hours community service delivering anti-villification workshops to Academy players of the ACT, NSW and Queensland rugby unions.
"I was just hoping that he (Harrison) didn't get any more than three weeks," Thaiday told The Northern Star.
"I think the penalty is fair enough.
"Justin gave me a call this morning and I think he's just happy he will still be able to play."
With former players, coaches, administrators and fans baying for Harrison's head last week, it was Thaiday who stepped forward and publicly offered his support for the big second-rower.
Thaiday also sent a letter of support to the SANZAR judiciary which was tabled at the hearing.
"He was very happy that I called him," the livewire back said.
"I could tell by the tone of his voice he was upset.
"There was a big difference from the Justin I saw on the Waratahs country tour up here last month and the Justin I spoke to the other night."
Thaiday has seen so much racist abuse on the football field that he rarely reacts to it these days.
"It's been happening to me since my junior football days," he said.
"I've seen it in Townsville and Darwin and I copped a bit in Lismore before I left to go to the Waratahs.
"I used to try to sort it out on the field and get them back in a fair way and leave it at that.
"Nowadays I just walk away." But Thaiday admits it's hard to turn the other cheek.
"If I still had the mind I had in school I wouldn't hesitate (to react)," he said.
"But after making this new start, giving up alcohol and dealing with stuff I realised you just can't go out and do what you want."
Thaiday met Harrison on the Australia A tour of Japan in 2002 and they shared a couple of laughs.
It wasn't until the second-rower moved to the Waratahs from the ACT Brumbies that the pair realised they shared a similar background having grown up in the Northern Territory.
Harrison was even given a skin name by Territory Aborigines in his youth.
So will Thaiday still be mates with Harrison following the Wallaby's comments?
"Bloody oath ... that's not him at all," the former Lismore Workers rugby league player said emphatically.
"He's not a racist, he wouldn't have a skin name if he was.
"But he'll have to live with what he did for the rest of his life and I'm sure it will never happen again.
"He's still my mate, he'll always be my mate."