Veratua played with Smith at the ACT Brumbies and earned his own Frownlow nomination for refusing to pay a fare and stealing a taxi in 2004.
The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. Kiwi international Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015 before Corey Norman in 2016 and Tim Simona in 2017.
The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame honours former players and players who received media attention in previous seasons, for similarly scandalous behaviour, and its inductees include Ben Cousins and Julian O’Neill.
Veratau lost his contract with the Brumbies after he was charged with robbery and taking a vehicle without authority. He allegedly dragged the taxi driver from his vehicle after an argument over the fare. This is eerily similar to the incident involving Smith except that Veratau then stole the taxi which was found by police about 30 minutes later in a Canberra suburb.
Veratau also played for Smith’s current club, the Queensland Reds and spent time at the Sydney Roosters, but it was during their time in Canberra that Smith learned a valuable lesson.
“I taught George how to steal the taxi too,” explained Veratau, after learning of Smith’s arrest in Tokyo.
“But I guess he was too old and too slow, or, I dunno, maybe taxi drivers are faster in Japan. Then again, it could just be because I was a winger and George is a flanker, and I was only 20 when I did it so it was easier for me to get away, you know what I mean?”
“It doesn’t matter though. I’m still proud of my old mate and I can’t wait to see him at the Frownlow awards night – we’ll share a taxi.”
First published in January, 2018.