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Four Indigenous NRL players cleared to travel to the US after visa concerns

Andrew Mathieson -

A grinning Reece Walsh leaving Brisbane Broncos' headquarters opened his car window, slowed down and declared to a waiting media pack: "Great day, isn't it?"

The Murri man's words came after hearing in the midst of a preseason session at Red Hill that his guilty verdict from a 2021 cocaine possession charge no longer stood in the way from playing in the NRL season opener showpiece in Las Vegas.

A club official upstairs in the Clive Berghofer Centre on Friday had earlier told Walsh, running out drills on the training track, that he was cleared for the trip.

The announcement evoked a thank you wave and a thumbs up.

He – of all the 12 men that were called upon to face the US Consulate General office – was the one NRL player that ARL commission chairman Peter V'landys was most concerned about failing to procure the right to a visa.

The good behaviour bond and the modest $400 fine without a conviction was enough for consulate figures to believe Walsh would pose no danger in Las Vegas.

V'landys has put much of the game promotion to American audiences around Walsh, once labelling the punchy fullback the "Justin Bieber of rugby league" after playing a season to remember since the Bronco moved from the NZ Warriors in the offseason.

Vision of the 21-year-old catching of a long spiral pass from Tom Brady at the iconic quarterback's Brisbane recent function has assured American viewers will be expecting one heck of a performance to match the hype.

But V'landys was even more relieved to hear not one of the clubs' players and officials from Brisbane, Sydney Roosters, South Sydney and Manly would be denied entry to the US for the double-header, including four Indigenous men from two of the sides.

Past run-ins with the law for South Sydney's Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker will also not have any bearing on them both fronting up against Manly in the opening match at Allegiant Stadium.

The Aboriginal teammates were both told on Thursday they would be given clearance to pass through US Immigration.

"I'm happy, mate – great process," Mitchell told Nine media.

"(It was) pretty quick in there. We're approved and ready to go.

"Can't wait for Vegas – I'm happy and ready to go. Vegas is great and fresh eyes I get to play in front of, so let's go."

Jack Wighton, who together with Mitchell got caught in a scuffle between Wiradjuri cousins outside of a Canberra nightspot, will also be allowed to travel to the US.

But the new Rabbitohs teammate to Mitchell will be forced to be a spectator on March 3 while serving out an onfield suspension from his last days with the Raiders.

They had to answer to charges of fighting in a public place, affray, and to obstructing and resisting arrest following a night of drinking for Wighton's 30th birthday until a senior police officer was caught out and admitted to giving false evidence in court.

Walker's presence during the formal interviews where the NRL players had to wait up to an hour appeared almost trivial. He was asked to explain a 2022 incident in the early-hours of a Saturday involving his brother and a family friend where police on the Central Coast was called to attend a noise complaint that once caught the attention of the NRL's integrity unit.

Officers viewed CCTV footage and spoke with security, witnesses, and the participants, who were largely wrestling, and decided not to press charges.

Souths assistant John Sutton sought approval to perform his coaching duties after the ex-club captain was charged with disorderly conduct at the end of a preseason trip in 2015 following the Fijian Rotuman islander's involvement in a bar flare-up in Arizona.

Tristian Sailor, the son of Wendell, the former Broncos favourite, could be set to pack his bags should Brisbane coach Kevin Waters select the utility back to battle with the Roosters.

He was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman in 2021 after an evening out drinking in Sydney amid his brief five-game stint with St George-Illawarra; and the consulate wanted to query the Torres Strait Islander further.

Brandon Smith had to argue his case for a visa over one arrest more than a decade ago when the incumbent Roosters hooker was starting out for the for North Queensland Cowboys under-20s. But the proud Maori man, though, did not have to address being locked up without a charge for pushing a police officer at a house party.


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