Lance Hohaia and former club St Helens have become embroiled in a bitter war of words over the former Kiwi international’s treatment after the 2014 Super League Grand Final and his subsequent retirement.
Hohaia was knocked to the ground and punched twice in the face by Wigan prop forward Ben Flower in that game, forcing the New Zealander from the field as a result.
The 32 year-old announced his retirement from rugby in April 2015, citing ‘recurrent post-match concussion-type symptoms’ as his reason for quitting the sport.
The former stand-off, who made 80 appearances for Saints, claimed that the club did not support him following in the following months after the Grand Final at Old Trafford, and that he “was offered prescription medicines to help with the headaches;” and that the club gave him the following ultimatum: “The option was, take the medication and play… or walk away.”
“Unfortunately Saints chose not to support me through that time and that hurt me a lot,” Hohaia added in his interview with the New Zealand Herald.
However, on March 19th Saints issued a strongly-worded statement saying that; “St Helens have reacted with astonishment and outrage at the various grossly inaccurate assertions of former player Lance Hohaia in a recent article in the New Zealand Herald newspaper.”
“Hohaia’s version of events at St Helens between the Grand Final in 2014 and his voluntary resignation without notice six months later is utterly inaccurate and malicious.
“Throughout that time he received the highest level of professional support and empathy, both rugby and medical. His subsequent version of ongoing “concussive symptoms” were entirely retrospective and only raised by him at the end of that period.”
The statement continued: “It is particularly despicable that he has publicly so wrongly and maliciously impugned St Helens and its highly professional and caring staff who provided him with support and understanding, and simply because he was clearly not entitled to continue to be paid by the club after he voluntarily resigned.
“Such malicious and public misrepresentation is clearly highly damaging to the highly respected and valuable name and reputation of St Helens and to the reputations of our first rate professional staff. We will review all possible actions open to us and seek due redress from all relevant parties.”
Saints’ chairman Eamonn McManus has also written his own statement on the club’s website, saying of Hohaia’s comments: “His misstatements have wrongly damaged the respected and hard earned reputation of one of the world’s great rugby league clubs. However, I reserve my real anger for the damage and wrongdoing to our highly reputable and leading medical and rugby staff, each of whom could not have looked after Lance more professionally. Their reputations, livelihoods and lives have been wrongly maligned and undermined by his utterly untrue assertions. This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by us.
“In the months before his resignation, in addition to being a full time rugby league player, he studied for a business degree in preparation for his planned new life and career in the United States. This was an impressive continuing achievement, but again utterly irreconcilable with his subsequent claims as to his wellbeing. Nevertheless, the Club still paid for his accommodation and cars after he had resigned and stayed in England in order to complete successfully his studies.”
However, Hohaia, who now lives in the US with his American-born wife and two children has responded by saying McManus’ attempt to draw a correlation between his mental state and university marks is “embarrassing.”
He added via the BBC: “I was provided with an outstanding tutor that I worked with weekly to help me with my assignments and did not sit the final exam due to my mental state.”
“I was awarded an aggregated score on my final exam based on my previous assignments out of compassion, which allowed me to pass.”
Hohaia also says: “The lack of support that I felt was from management and was in reference specifically to how my retirement and the subsequent time after was handled, not how I was treated after the Grand Final incident.”
Hohaia also added that he hasn’t ever “publicly criticised the highly regarded medical staff at Saints”.
“Eamonn has taken my wider statement about the club not supporting me as an attack against the entire club and the team, which is simply not the case,” Hohaia added.
The former New Zealand Warrior says that the aim of his interview had been to highlight the way that concussions are treated.
“At the moment, there is a one-size-fits-all approach, which does not, in my opinion, suffice.
“It is a shame that this message has been lost in the tirade from Saints.”