NRL Qualifying Final - Storm v Sea Eagles
SUNSHINE COAST, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 10: Haumole Olakau'atu of the Sea Eagles is tackled during the NRL Qualifying Final between the Melbourne Storm and the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles at Sunshine Coast Stadium on September 10, 2021, in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Senior Manly Sea Eagles players including Dylan Walker and Kieran Foran have voiced their support for under-fire back-rower Haumole Olakau’atu in the wake of a try celebration that appeared to show solidarity with former teammate Manase Fainu.

Fainu was this week found guilty of stabbing a Mormon church youth leader during a wild brawl in 2019 and is now awaiting sentencing.

The NRL has this week spoken to Olakau’atu and Warriors player Addin Fonua-Blake after the integrity commission raised concerns about the context of the gestures appearing to show support for Fainu in the wake of the verdict. Some reports had suggested the celebration was using gang-related signs.

Olakau’atu has since claimed the gesture was merely a homage to his friend and not a gang-related issue, and he’s been supported in that stance by his senior clubmates.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 03: Manase Fainu of the Sea Eagles passes the ball during the round 20 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Newcastle Knights at Lottoland on August 03, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

“I can understand (the concerns) with the audience the NRL want to bring in, but Haumole and Manase are best mates,” Dylan Walker - himself no stranger to controversy - told the Daily Telegraph.

“We talk a lot about mental health, but this is a kid (Fainu) who had a big future, he’ll be sitting somewhere and if he sees that, it will give him a little bit of hope.

“I don’t think it’s a gang sign, it was deadest for (Fainu). We’re all about helping people through tough times. This is a classic example.

“I thought it was a show of support and a good gesture to try and help a best mate”

Foran was also quick to heap praise on the former dummy-half and agreed that he didn’t see a problem with players supporting a friend through tough times.

“When we were in training in pre-season, I couldn’t believe some of the things (Fainu) was coming up with on the field,” Foran told the Telegraph.

“I honestly thought if he gets off his charges and stays fit, we can win the comp. He was frighteningly good.

“But there have been a lot of postcode wars and people have lost their lives. We don’t want to be encouraging that… but my opinion is Haumole wasn’t encouraging that, he was showing support for his mate.”

Olokau’atu was one of the ‘Manly 7’ – the group of players who refused to play in a game that included a jersey celebrating diversity and inclusion.