Australian rugby player cops eight-game ban over racist ‘monkey’ slur

Spencer Leniu of the Roosters runs the ball during the round one NRL match against the Brisbane Broncos.

The Sydney Roosters’ Spencer Leniu has been found guilty of racially absuing an opponent. Picture: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images / AFP

Published Mar 11, 2024


An Australian rugby league star who directed a racist slur against an indigenous opponent during a showcase match in the United States was banned for eight games Monday.

The National Rugby League judiciary found Sydney Roosters prop Spencer Leniu called Brisbane Broncos player Ezra Mam a "monkey" in a racial context during the competition's season-opener in Las Vegas this month.

Samoa international Leniu apologised and pleaded guilty to contrary conduct but repeatedly insisted he did not think the comment was racial in nature.

"On behalf of Spencer and the Sydney Roosters we apologise unreservedly to Ezra and his family for the hurt that has been caused," said Roosters chief Joe Kelly.

Mam reported the comment during the match -- part of a double-header of NRL games to launch the season at Allegiant Stadium -- to referee Adam Gee, who put Leniu on report.

"Racism and vilification have no place in modern society and will not be tolerated in rugby league," NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said in a statement after the ban was handed down.

"The penalty applied tonight underscores the zero tolerance rugby league has for racism. From this sad event some important lessons can be learned.

"We will work with the players and the RLPA (Rugby League Players Association) to continue to deliver important awareness and education programs and ensure rugby league continues to be the greatest game for all."

There have been previous instances of racial abuse in the NRL, though largely from spectators.