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Mundine backs Warner after outgoing opener cops criticism from former teammate

Andrew Mathieson -

When Anthony Mundine quit rugby league for good in search for his long lost love of boxing, the Bundjalung man was turning to one of the loneliest sports.

After eight seasons among the camaraderie of St George Dragons, Brisbane Broncos, and St George Illawarra teammates, Mundine stood on his own inside the ring while going toe-for-toe across a whole two decades.

The spotlight on one of the nation's greatest dual sportspersons whose ups and downs drew controversy, weighing against much of popular public opinion, unknowingly became a sounding board for Australian cricketer David Warner.

The opening batsman brokered a close friendship with Mundine after the men sought comfort following the unexpected death of their mutual friend, Phil Hughes, from a fatal bouncer on the SCG in 2014.

Warner needed further solace from Mundine on the back of a 12-month ban in 2018 from all forms of cricket over the infamous ball-tampering saga involving the use of sandpaper against South Africa in Cape Town.

So when former Australian teammate, Mitchell Johnson, came out to support a critical view from the public that questioned Warner's right to decide on the date and the place of his Test farewell at his SCG home, Mundine came to the defence of his mate.

The former left-arm quick was labelled "un-Australian" for not permitting Warner a final swansong.

Mundine also added that Johnson knocking his one-time compatriot, where both men shared a dressing room together in the first six years of Warner's international career, was a "low act".

Johnson wrote in The West Australian days earlier that selectors should dictate when Warner leaves the game following just the one Test century – a double hundred on Boxing Day last year at the MCG – throughout the Sydneysider's past four years playing.

"Why (does) a struggling Test opener gets to nominate his own retirement date?" Johnson asked.

Warner's Test match average this year, including an away Ashes series and a tour of India, has been 22.81, sliding further down from his 30.05 in 2022 – despite that phenomenal double hundred against the South Africans – and his 38.37 in 2021.

The explosive column from Johnson, who retired in 2015 after seven years on the Test scene, also reopened deep wounds from the notorious Newlands clash.

"Why (does) a player at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in Australian cricket history warrants a hero's send-off?" Johnson added.

That brought a rebuke from chairman of selectors George Bailey, who Johnson had suggested was too close to Warner and others in the team to make objective calls.

Mundine said the dramatic saga, which appears to have cost Johnson an expected radio contract this summer in commentary for the cricket season ahead, should not have played out in public.

"Why wouldn't Mitchell speak to him face to face himself first?" Mundine told AAP.

"There would have been a bit of a relationship there based on those years (of being an Australia teammates of Warner's)."

Mundine also got on the front foot over Warner's questionable form after long sustaining a respectable batting chart.

Despite the overall average steadily sliding down to 44.43 after once peaking well above 50 in the first half of his career, Mundine backed in Warner to finish his time on a high after a strong 2023 World Cup campaign in the white-ball format that turned in an average of 48.63 - albeit in batting-friendly conditions.

"Dave's got the runs on the board - the proof is in the pudding," Mundine said.

"It will be a fitting way to end his Test career; he deserves that.

"Mitchell should just own what he's done and Dave is a good enough man to forgive and move on.

"It's just another chapter in life."

In a revealing insight to what happened behind closed doors, Mundine said he also endured similar treatment from at least one ex-teammate.

The former three-time world champion in three different weight divisions for the three leading boxing organisations walked away from the NRL several months after St George Illawarra shockingly lost the 1999 grand final to NRL newcomers Melbourne Storm.

"When I retired from football, I went overseas to clear my mind and to clear my head and (former Dragons captain) Craig Smith was giving me a bit of a hammering. He didn't know what I was going through," Mundine said.

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