Claims Penrith star Gower manhandled Test great's daughter


December 22, 2005

PENRITH halfback Craig Gower is at the centre of another alcohol-fuelled incident involving rugby league players, with allegations the Test footballer manhandled the daughter of former great Wayne Pearce after a charity golf event.

Gower was at the presentation dinner for the Jack Newton Celebrity Golf Classic on the Sunshine Coast when the incident reportedly occurred.

The Nine Network reported that the 27-year-old had manhandled the woman and was later involved in separate heated altercations with both Pearce and the son of the former Test player and NSW captain. It was further alleged that Gower - who was thrown out of the Australian rugby league team for exposing himself to a tourist in 1999 and fined $3000 for breaking a NSW team curfew last year - was kicked out of the official function, and had walked around the resort naked and crashed a golf cart.

Gower did not return calls yesterday but on Tuesday he strenuously denied any wrongdoing. "I'm up here to have a good time and that's it. What, I can't go out and enjoy myself?" he said. "At the end of the day, I am a normal bloke. I'm no better than anybody else. As long as I respect others, that's the main thing."

His position had altered yesterday, admitting in a statement he had pushed the boundaries on Monday night.

In the same statement, tournament host Jack Newton said "unfortunately Craig Gower probably crossed the line on one occasion" but described the allegations as unsubstantiated.

Alcohol abuse in league has come under the microscope recently, with former Australia coach Wayne Bennett speaking out about binge drinking's affect on the NRL last week.

"I'm sick of the drunks and I'm sick of our game being dragged through every media outlet in the country every time some guy behaves badly," Bennett said.

Nine's footage showed golf event MC, Billy J Smith, asking Gower about alcohol on the recent Kangaroos tour to Great Britain and France. "What about this drinking they reckon has been happening over there?" Smith asked. Gower's first words were censored and he continued: "I'm just trying to get into it now."

Penrith football manager Mick Leary said the club would conduct a full investigation into the alleged incidents and would have a finding by year's end.

"Put it this way - my holidays are gone," Leary said. "I will put recommendations to the Panthers board for their final decision."

Leary would not confirm if Gower would be sacked if some or all of the allegations proved correct but he made it clear that even if the player was on a break, he was still representing the club.

"They have an NRL contract and I believe they are then representing their club and the NRL for that period of time," Leary said. "It's like with any business. When is your down time, when is your free time? I suppose you've got plenty of it as long as you don't go and run out and do something stupid with it."

The NRL last night backed Penrith's investigation, while Gower's manager Greg Willett said he was a "great role model".

"He just denies it. He said that's not how it was. I can only vouch for his character," Willett said. "It was his bucks night. Everyone was buying him beers and that, he had two days of a bucks party and things like that."

Bennett, who resigned as Australia coach earlier this month, believes the drinking culture in league is destroying the game.



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