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The Roar


NRL News: Robbo regrets his words but insists Leniu 'not racist', Cowboy targets Blues spot, Joey's surprise best coach

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14th March, 2024
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Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson is adamant suspended prop Spencer Leniu is “not racist” and warned the NRL and society need to start a conversation about the use of language.

Leniu has been banned for eight games after his club’s season-opener in Las Vegas was marred by claims he labelled Brisbane five-eighth Ezra Mam “a monkey”.

Up until Wednesday, the Roosters had kept their silence with Robinson fronting the media to attempt to draw a line in the sand after Leniu was handed his suspension on Monday.

The Roosters coach said Leniu knew he would live with his sledge “for the rest of his life”.

But Robinson was keen to underline the fact such language was often common not just in the NRL, but in society as a whole. “He is not racist,” Robinson said. “His use of language was on trial.

“This is a language issue, this is common between people of all ages in sport or in the playground … It’s not because they’re racist or they’re trying to put power there. It’s banter between guys and I’m not saying it’s right.

“But we need to change the language with which we speak to each other.


“To call Spencer a racist is so far from the truth. It is so far from the truth but is that language right? You can never use that but is it happening on a daily basis? Yes it is.”

Robinson added: “If we understand the definition of racism (as) when you try to use your power to put someone down a class and degrade that person.

“If you think that an immigrant from parents from Samoa and New Zealand and then Mt Druitt is trying to put someone down through power, then we’re way off the mark.”

Leniu, who only joined the Roosters from Penrith over the off-season, said at his judiciary hearing the terms “blacky”, “monkey” and “black c**t” were often used in dressing rooms.

He received support from Manly forward Haumole Olakau’atu on Tuesday, who claimed he had often been labelled a “coconut”.

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)

“It is more common than what people think and it’s not because people are racist,” Robinson said. “Let’s hope in 10 or 20 years time we look back and we (all) see it as racist language, at the moment it’s banter for those guys.”


Robinson also admitted a regret at how he handled the immediate aftermath of the Roosters-Broncos clash.

Former dual-code international Lote Tuqiri said the premiership-winning coach was “gaslighting” Mam by questioning the validity of his claim he had been racially vilified on-field.

“I should have handled that differently,” Robinson said. “We had no comms of the incident and I went into that press conference unsure of what went on and I felt people had already found him guilty. I wanted to say, look there’s a procedure here, but the words I used were wrong.”

The Roosters have discussed the use of language internally in the 10 days since the Leniu-Mam incident. Robinson’s charges include Indigenous utility Connor Watson and winger Dominic Young, who is of Jamaican descent.

“We had to have a pretty open forum on that,” Robinson said. “I’m not going to go into details about what was said but it was a step in the right direction.”


Drinkwater hungry for Origin debut

North Queensland fullback Scott Drinkwater has his sights set on a NSW jersey which adds an extra dimension to his Saturday night showdown in Townsville with Newcastle custodian Kalyn Ponga.

Ponga, who won the Dally M Medal last season, has represented Queensland with distinction in the State of Origin arena but stepped down from last year’s series to focus on club football after returning from multiple concussions.

“He is a freak,” Drinkwater said of Ponga.

“When he gets the ball he is fast and strong … his ball playing is silky-as. Kalyn is a Dally M winner so it is a good battle.”

Drinkwater was magnificent in the 43-18 win over the Dolphins in round one. Last year he had his best season yet with 25 try assists, 14 line breaks and 11 tries to win the Paul Bowman Medal as the Cowboys’ player of the year.

The 26-year-old was 18th man in game three of last year’s Origin series. James Tedesco is the incumbent Blues captain and fullback. He has already started the season on fire for the Sydney Roosters and the jersey will be his for as long as he stays in form and wants to keep playing representative football.


Drinkwater is also versatile and can play in the halves so he offers a utility dimension if NSW choose to go down that path.

“I’d love to wear the Blues jersey. It is all I dreamed about as a kid and a goal of mine this year,” Drinkwater said.

“(Origin) is about 12 weeks away so it is all about each game going out there and being consistently good. Just doing the little efforts and hopefully the big things come off.”

North Queensland’s Scott Drinkwater runs the ball. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Cowboys coach Todd Payten said Drinkwater has found the right balance in his game.

“Scott understands how influential he is on the group,” Payten said. “I think he has gotten better over time with maturity around when to go for the big play and when to keep his powder dry.

“He is talking in meetings and leading from the back. Things look good so long as he continues in that vein.”


Like all class acts, Drinkwater is not satisfied with what he has achieved. “There is always room for more improvement. I am looking at having higher involvements.

“There were a few games last year where I could have had more but I will run first, rather than ball-play first. If I run first that other (creative) stuff will happen.

“I will always back what I see but be smarter at my decisions. Toddy is always into me about that.”

Drinkwater said the Knights would be “fired up” after a first-round loss to Canberra. As for Ponga, Drinkwater wants to send him home with another defeat and keep him at arm’s length.

“We don’t see each other too much on the field because we are both at the back,” Drinkwater said. “Hopefully he doesn’t make a line break because he will snap my ankles. He’s got a good step on him. He is their danger man.”

Joey puts Bellamy ahead of Bennett on coaching honour role

Andrew Johns believes Craig Bellamy has exceeded Wayne Bennett among the modern supercoaches but surpisingly has someone else at the top of the tree.


The Knights Immortal wrote in his Sydney Morning Herald column that from what he has seen, Warren Ryan has been the best coach since the mid 1980s, declaring he was not old enough to remember Jack Gibson’s glory days with Easts and Parramatta.

“I’ve got him second only to Warren Ryan. He’s gone past the likes of Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheens in my mind,” Johns wrote.

“Last week was just another demonstration of his genius. To win 22 straight round one matches is an extraordinary achievement. It just goes to show the work ethic he instils in his team, the way he prepares them over summer. There’s just no rust whatsoever. The way they defended against the Panthers was a testament to his coaching methods.

“It would not surprise me one bit to see the Storm farewell the great coach with a premiership.”

Tigers teen won’t be overawed

Tigers backing young gun Galvin to take NRL by storm


Insisting he’s no risk, Wests Tigers teammates are tipping Lachlan Galvin to “kill it” when the teenage prodigy makes his much-anticipated NRL debut on Saturday.

Galvin is set to start at five-eighth in the Tigers’ season opener against Canberra in the national capital, partnering new recruit Jayden Sullivan in the halves.

First-season coach Benji Marshall made the bold call in the biggest selection gamble since Marshall also debuted at 18 back in 2003.

That roll of the dice turned out OK, with Marshall leading the joint venture to their one and only premiership two years later.

Little wonder the club’s rep stars are backing Marshall and Galvin to deliver for the Tigers more than two decades on.

“He’s just a natural footballer. He’s a gun,” NSW State of Origin hooker and triple premiership winner Api Koroisau said on Wednesday.


“What’s the old adage? If they’re good enough, they’re old enough.

“All the boys have all the confidence in him and he’s been showing that each and every day.

“He’s got a great running game. He’s quite a tall kid, but moves really well and quite silky.”

Tigers hardman David Klemmer hailed the former Australian schoolboys stand-out as the fittest player in the club after watching Galvin excel during the pre-season.

“He beat everyone by a country mile in in all sorts of runs. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Klemmer said.

“”It’s a credit to him. He could have come in here and dipped his toe in and used the exuse that he’s a young bloke, but he’s come here and taken it head on.


“He’s trying to beat you and he’s a tough kid as well.”

Despite his inexperience and lean frame, neither Klemmor or Blues enforcer Stefano Utoikamanu suspect Galvin will need any bodyguarding from teammates.

“I’m just going to go out there and do my job because I’m comfortable he’s going to go out there and kill it,” Utoikamanu said. “He’s someone who’s going to work hard for us. He’s young but he’s shown that he’s pretty confident and he’s comfortable telling everyone where to go.”

The Tigers are chomping at the bit after having a first-round bye, while the Raiders are fresh off a thumping win over the Knights in Newcastle.

“We got the two points straight away. It took us nine weeks last year to get two points,” Klemmer said of the Tigers’ season start. It’s massive for us. It’s a a good positive feel. Everyone’s excited.”

with AAP