Rugby player who was banned for 6 years makes dramatic career u-turn
Fijian rugby player Keresi Maya had dreams of a glittering career in the sport until a moment of on-field madness in 2020 derailed them.
Aged just 19 at the time, the Naitasiri loose forward punched referee Peni Talemaivavalgi to the ground after disagreeing with a decision during a game at Ratu Cakobau Park in Nausori.
The assault left the official bleeding from a severely broken nose and made global rugby headlines. Criminal proceedings were also initially levelled at Maya, although a permanent stay was put on the charges in 2021.
Maya was playing rugby union at the time but was on the verge of agreeing on a three-year development contract with the Cronulla Sharks in the NRL. In the aftermath of the event, Cronulla opted out and World Rugby went on to ban him for six years from playing rugby union.
It was a devastating blow for the young man but two years on and he looking at getting back into the game in a very different guise. According to the Fiji Times Maya has now taken up the whistle – under the guidance of Taveuni Rugby Referees Association – in a bid to give back to the game and stay up to date on the laws.
“When I was told that I won’t be playing rugby for the next six years, I gave up on everything knowing that my rugby career was over,” he told the Fiji Times.
“That was it, all my dreams of securing a contract and helping my family were crushed.
“I returned back home and helped my family with farming.”
The player, whose promising career was dashed by the moment of madness, wishes he could take the moment back.
“All I can do now is focus on the future and seek forgiveness from all rugby fans, to the referee’s family and to FRU for my actions.
“I want to play rugby again, I will never give up and whatever God has in store for me I am grateful.”
Maya, the son of a Fijian rugby league star, will be 25 by the time his rugby union ban elapses. Whether that is too long a time out of the 15-man code in what would have been a critical time in his professional development; it is hard to say.
Maya did pick up some games with a local rugby league side – Nabua Broncos – but it seems he wants to return to union. While no one would downplay the horrific nature of his attack on the referee, one can’t but hope his is a redemption story that has a happy ending.