Canberra coach Ricky Stuart defended hooker Tom Starling after his arrest for allegedly assaulting a police officer

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart is rallying behind embattled hooker Tom Starling after he was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer, declaring he would have been “more disappointed” if the rising star hadn’t defended his family amid a brawl on the weekend.

Starling, 22, was one of four men arrested and charged — including two of his brothers — over the incident that took place at an Avoca Beach bar on the Central Coast.

Police allege Starling grabbed at an officer’s pistol, but the Raiders hooker claims he tried to break up an altercation taking place between his brother and another patron after a derogative comment was made about their mother.

Starling has only been with Canberra since 2019, but Stuart feels like he knows the former Newcastle Knights junior well enough to know that he wouldn’t act without a reason.

Stuart was particularly surprised about the suggestion that Starling grabbed one of the police officer’s guns.

“The point today that’s out there – reaching for an officer’s gun – no one in their right mind would do that,” Stuart said.

“Highly unlikely Tom would. I certainly hope that isn’t the case.

“I only spoke to him via phone, but he was shaken up and disappointed – it’s not in his nature.

“His version of events is a lot different to what’s been publicly stated.

“If his version of events is truthful, which I’ve no doubt it would be, because he’s not a guy who’s going to lie to me.”

A rattled Starling shared his version of events with Stuart, who is happy to support his rising No.9 as the incident heads to the courts.

“It is disappointing, but I have spoken to Tom at length yesterday and I know a number of our club officials have spoken to Tommy,” he said.

“Speaking to Tom, defending his mother and brother is something I was obviously OK with.

“If he didn’t jump in to defend his brother and mother, I’d probably be more disappointed in the guy.

Canberra Raiders player Tom Starling after an incident with police on the Central Coast. Picture suppliedSource:Supplied

Unfortunately for Canberra, players appearing in court after an off-field incident isn’t a one off.

Earlier this year, centre Curtis Scott was charged with assaulting a police officer among other things before body cam footage helped the charges be dismissed.

The incident happened in January but charges weren’t dismissed until September.

“I’m all about the game too, and there’s been headlines over the last month or six weeks that haven’t been good for our game and hopefully it can be put to bed very quickly,” he said.

“I thought we did a good job of (Scott’s case) as a club.

“It affected Curtis last year. The drag on of the court system and just the embarrassment of it. I hope it doesn’t drag on again this year for Tommy’s sake.

“We will certainly support Tommy going on what he told me yesterday and his version of events, telling me the truth which I asked for. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”

🗣 Hear from Ricky Stuart as he spoke about the start of pre-season, Tom Starling as well as the influence of Ryan James#WeAreRaidershttps://t.co/9S3bfZhDAR pic.twitter.com/KUC0Vxxfq5

Starling claims he was bashed while being arrested for allegedly assaulting police when he was out with family and friends to celebrate a birthday with a group that included Knights star fullback Kalyn Ponga.

The hooker then told Canberra club officials he only intervened when a brawl erupted involving his 19-year-old brother who had heard what he believed was a derogatory comment about his mother from a security guard.

The NRL Integrity Unit is liaising with both NSW Police and the club.

All four men were arrested are facing charges of assaulting a police officer in the execution of duty, resisting, or hindering a police officer, and affray.

They were granted conditional bail to appear at Gosford Local Court on January 21.

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