Harrison Petty’s parents have refuted claims their son burst into tears after a rival player wished death on his mother because she is dying of cancer.
The Melbourne Demons young gun was visibly upset by the brutal sledge from Brisbane captain Dayne Zorko during Friday night’s AFL match.
Zorko was widely condemned for supposedly uttering words to the effect of ‘I hope your mother dies’ but many fans questioned how Petty, 22, could be so upset by a sledge on the football field.
Several AFL pundits claimed Petty’s mother Karen was ‘terminally ill’ with cancer, setting off a young footballer already distraught about her illness.
The Adelaide Thunderbirds netball team, where Petty’s sister Hannah is co-captain, also held its first cancer fundraiser with The Longest Table earlier this month, where Hannah posed for photos in team uniform.
Harrison Petty with his mother Karen and father Simon in the Melbourne Demons dressing rooms after his team with the AFL Premiership last year
However, Karen was on Thursday morning working behind the counter at a hardware store in the family home town of Wudinna, looking the picture of health.
‘That’s all rumours… I don’t have cancer,’ she told Daily Mail Australia with an amused smile when directly asked about reports she was terminally ill.
Petty’s father Simon also insisted his wife was not sick, though both declined to discuss the Zorko situation, reveal exactly what was said, or why Petty was upset.
‘My wife’s not ill,’ he said while shaking his head at the family home in country South Australia.
The family has lived in the tiny town, on the Eyre Peninsula, 6.5 hours from Adelaide, population 550, for generations.
Even before the 22-year-old defender lifted the AFL Premiership Cup last season, the Petty family was local sporting royalty.
Karen is one of Eyre’s best ever netballers over 18 seasons for Wudinna United’s A grade team, winning 13 premierships and nine club and three league best and fairest awards.
After her top-class playing days were over, she helped the club as a coach and logistical organiser over the past decade.
The Petty family keep the celebrations going back in South Australia with his brother Jackson (left) and sister Hannah (second from left)
The Adelaide Thunderbirds netball team, where Petty’s sister Hannah is co-captain, held its first cancer fundraiser with The Longest Table earlier this month, where Hannah posed for photos in team uniform
Her last two premierships were won alongside her daughter Hannah, 25, who now co-captains the Thunderbirds in the Super Netball league.
‘My mum means the world to me, she has helped me so much with my netball career and continues to be a rock which I can lean on at any given time,’ she wrote in a Thunderbirds Facebook post in 2018.
‘I’ve always believed that it’s not only me on my netball journey but my family and mum are as much apart of this as I am.
‘One of my favourite netball memories is being able to play numerous games with her and winning a couple of grand finals to top it off.’
So determined were Karen and Simon for their children to succeed that they drove Hannah 550km from Wudinna every Saturday after her local game to play at a higher competition in Adelaide on Sunday.
Straight after that they would drive back on Sunday night ready for bed and school at 8.45am on Monday until Hannah won a scholarship to Immanuel College in Adelaide and joined the Thunderbirds in 2016.
Karen (left) is one of Eyre’s best ever netballers over 18 seasons for Wudinna United’s A grade team, winning 13 premierships including two alongside her daughter Hannah (right)
Petty poses with his parents in front of his locker at the Demons’ home ground during his first year in the AFL in 2018
Petty with his grandmother, Karen’s mother Joyleen Sampson, at the MCG after winning the AFL Grand Final
Petty, who fiercely competed with his sister in sporting achievement since he was 10, got similar treatment, attending Rostrevor College and playing for Norwood in the SANFL, both in Adelaide.
He was picked by Melbourne in the third round of the 2017 draft and won the 2019 Harold Ball Memorial Trophy for the Demons’ best first-season player.
His parents, Hannah, grandparents Graham and Joyleen Sampson, and uncle Zane Petty cheered him on from the stands at Perth Stadium as the team won in a thriller against the Western Bulldogs.
Meanwhile in Wundinna, a dozen other family and friends doubled a 40th birthday party into a victory celebration.
Karen herself has an excellent sporting pedigree. Her father Graham was a champion country footballer in the 1970s.
Simon had a less illustrious career but still played more than 200 games for Wudinna, serving as captain and winning two premierships.
He followed up as a club official, including years as president or secretary.
Petty and his grandfather, Karen’s father and legendary country footballer Graham Sampson, hold the AFL premiership cup in the Melbourne dressing rooms
Most of the contingent that made the trip from South Australia to Perth to watch Petty in the grand final, including his grandparents, party into the night after the game
AFL world outraged at Zorko sledge
Brisbane Lions captain Dayne Zorko, 33, was pilloried for his sledge on Melbourne Demons young gun Harrison Petty, 22, that shocked the AFL world.
Tensions flared during the 115-57 thrashing Melbourne metered out and finally boiled over in the third quarter.
As the teams separated for their respective huddles after three-quarter time, Petty was in tears and had to be comforted by head coach Simon Goodwin and and defensive coach Troy Chaplin.
He started the fourth term on the interchange bench as he sought to ‘reset’ himself before rejoining the match.
Dayne Zorko with his girlfriend Talia de Marco on the 2021 Brownlow Medal red carpet
The sledge sparked a heated discussion between Melbourne football manager Alan Richardson and his Brisbane counterpart Danny Daly, before Zorko was confronted by several Demons at full-time.
Melbourne on Saturday said it accepted an apology from the Lions and was happy to let the matter rest after Petty and Zorko had a heart-to-heart following the match.
‘I have apologised to Harrison for the inappropriate comment I made to him last night,’ Zorko said.
‘I’m remorseful for my actions and take full responsibility for the hurt caused to Harrison, his family and the Melbourne Football Club.
‘In reflection, I understand I need to be a better leader, and have spoken with the club who have reinforced this.’
Petty in 2018 about to play his first game for the Casey Demons, Melbourne’s feeder team in the VFL, after being drafted months earlier
Petty with his little brother Jackson holding the AFL premiership cup
Despite numerous calls for the AFL to investigate the Brisbane star’s words and for him to front the judiciary, the league has taken no action.
The lack of punishment for Zorko outraged many AFL fans and pundits who believed it would signal that such comments were fair game.
Zorko later claimed he wasn’t the only one throwing around unsavoury banter during the match and was provoked into the sledge on Petty.
‘For me, I want to get across that it was an intense game and from the first bounce there was to-ing and fro-ing from both sides of the fence, players across the field probably stepped up to the line all game,’ he told SEN radio.
Petty with his uncle Zane Petty, who travelled from his butcher’s shop in Wudinna to Perth to watch his nephew in the AFL Grand Final last year
‘I acknowledge that I certainly crossed that. I guess for me it’s just really important that Lions fans and fans in general understand that it wasn’t just an unprovoked sledge and it wasn’t said in isolation.
Asked whether comments made by the Melbourne players had also crossed the line, Zorko replied ‘potentially’, although he was unwilling to disclose what had been said.
‘I need to acknowledge that what I said clearly crossed that line and I fully and totally understand that through the heat of battle words are said and for me, in this case, I overstepped the mark,’ he added.