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NRL News: Leniu pleads guilty to monkey racial slur, apologises to Mam - 'I said the word but I didn't mean it in a racist way'

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7th March, 2024
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Spencer Leniu is poised for a long suspension after admitting he targeted Ezra Mam with a racial slur during the NRL’s opening round in Las Vegas.

The Sydney Roosters prop pleaded guilty to contrary conduct and apologised to the Brisbane five-eighth in a statement on Thursday, the first time the Roosters had formally addressed the matter.

But Leniu claimed he did not intend to racially vilify the Indigenous 21-year-old by calling him a “monkey” mid-game at Allegiant Stadium on Saturday night (Sunday AEDT).

Mam made an official on-field complaint to referee Adam Gee after Leniu targeted him during a scuffle late in the Roosters’ 20-10 win.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 02: Spencer Leniu of the Roosters rusn the ball during the round one NRL match between Sydney Roosters and Brisbane Broncos at Allegiant Stadium, on March 02, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Spencer Leniu in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Leniu was placed on report and later referred directly to the NRL judiciary, with a hearing set for Monday night.

The NRL has so far been unable to source audio of the slur but Broncos players are expected to testify when Leniu fronts the panel.

The Roosters recruit initially downplayed the incident when quizzed by broadcast media after the match, saying the tensions between the sides had been “fun and games”.


Those comments drew the ire of Indigenous players including Kotoni Staggs and Latrell Mitchell, and Leniu has since indicated his remorse.

“I want to apologise to Ezra and his family for using the word I did and I am sincerely sorry to cause him such distress,” Leniu said in a statement.

“I’ve put my hand up and want to take ownership of this. I said the word but I didn’t mean it in a racist way. Anyone who knows me knows that’s not who I am.”

The Broncos have backed Mam’s version of events throughout the ordeal and released their own statement in reply to Leniu on Thursday.

“The Broncos acknowledge Spencer’s apology to Ezra and the importance of taking that step. There is no place for racism in our game or in our society,” the statement read.

“The club respects the NRL judiciary process that is still to play out and we will make no further comment on that.

“Ezra’s wellbeing has been our primary concern from the start. He has been well supported within our club and we will continue to focus on that in the time ahead.”


Leniu’s comment left Mam distraught and sparked a verbal confrontation between Roosters and Broncos players at the teams’ Las Vegas hotel.

In the days since, current and former players have weighed in as the incident threatened to overshadow the league’s highly publicised foray into the American market.

Roosters chief executive Joe Kelly apologised to Mam as part of the club’s statement.

“Spencer has been completely open and honest throughout this process, and we will continue to support him,” he said.

“We extend our deepest apologies to Ezra, his family and the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and offer our support to all parties during this time.”


Pangai back after short-lived retirement

Tevita Pangai Jr makes his return to rugby league with Souths-Logan this weekend and his coach Karmichael Hunt has no doubt the powerhouse forward will eventually get back to the NRL.

The 28-year-old NSW and Tongan representative quit Canterbury last year to become a professional boxer, but has decided he can juggle both and wants to work his way back into the NRL via the Queensland Cup competition.

Souths-Logan Magpies coach Hunt confirmed Pangai would come off the bench against Redcliffe in round one on Saturday.

The Magpies are an affiliate club of the Brisbane Broncos. Pangai, who played 96 of his 138 NRL games with the Broncos, is a chance of getting a deal with Brisbane later in the season, when he would not be such a burden on their salary cap.

“Tevita is only 28 and as a middle forward he is coming into his best years,” Hunt told AAP.

“His body is not too banged up, so as long as his mind and his determination is there – and it is there in spades at the moment – I think he can get back to his best at the NRL level.

Tevita Pangai Junior of the Blues offloads during game one of the 2023 State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and New South Wales Blues at Adelaide Oval on May 31, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Tevita Pangai jnr offloads during game one of the 2023 State of Origin series. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“You don’t come across an Origin and Test match player sitting around in January without a contract.

“So when Tevita made the call and expressed his desire to return to play rugby league, we were more than happy to accommodate him.”

Hunt was quick to respond when asked what had impressed him most so far about Pangai.

“It is his great attitude,” he said.

“I’ve been speaking to him in the last month at training about his desire to get back to the NRL, but also what he is doing to get himself ready for his boxing matches.

“I take my hat off to him. He has fitted into the group seamlessly with no arrogance whatsoever. He has earned his jersey, and the boys couldn’t be happier to have him as a teammate.”


Dual international Hunt, who won the 2006 NRL title with the Broncos, understands what it is like to take risks. He went out on a limb and played AFL, then rugby union for the Wallabies, before returning to the NRL in 2021.

“It takes intimate understanding of what you are capable of when you venture into other sports and arenas that not many have done before you,” Hunt said.

“As a result you don’t have too many supporters, because they have never seen it happen.

“You have to be your own biggest supporter, and Tevita is that. He has a great network around him and a lot of mates at the Broncos who believe in him.”

Savage ready to put on a show in new role

After spending a year in the NRL wilderness, Canberra young gun Xavier Savage is ready to put on a show.

The 21-year-old excitement machine will return to the top grade for the first time since round 10 last year when the Raiders try to upset Newcastle away from home on Thursday night.


Savage looked to have made the No.1 jersey his own in 2022 with a 19-game, seven-try campaign, to the point Canberra released former fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad from his contract early so he could head back to the Warriors.

But the Cairns product would make just one first-grade appearance in 2023, breaking his jaw and struggling with a hamstring niggle, before playing 13 games in the NSW Cup while reinventing himself as a winger.

Coach Ricky Stuart thinks Savage has found his feet with a monster pre-season, the youngster feeling comfortable in his shift away from fullback.

“I’ve worked my butt off and got to this point now and I’m happy with where I’m at,” Savage told AAP.

“It was just a safer option coming back from my jaw and then just slowly building into it, and I just couldn’t get there with the niggles I had with my hamstrings as well.

“I was trying to slowly build into going back to fullback, but I just couldn’t quite get there towards the end.


“I decided to stay there in that wing position. I just feel like I’m an outside back, anywhere I can use my speed, I’m happy.”

Stuart said his young talent’s recent training block was the best he’d produced at the club.

Xavier Savage. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

“He creates excitement … he’s a young Indigenous boy who had to find his feet,” he said. “He’s worked really hard, and hard work gets you results. 

“Sometimes it’s a young boy who has to realise his potential, but also to have some belief in his potential … and some belief and confidence in his ability.”

Veteran back Jordan Rapana will start the season in the No.1 jumper, and Savage’s future in the Canberra side isn’t locked in, with versatile Seb Kris and 18-year-old fullback Chevy Stewart watching on from the sidelines.

But that depth is what Savage attributed his recent gains to as he fights to stay in first grade.


“There’s been a really big jump in competitiveness around the club, with a lot more younger boys here,” he said.

“The balance with the younger and older boys has been pretty good, helping each other grow as players and just making each other work harder.

“There’s been a good battle going on, but all for the right reasons.”

with AAP