Spencer Leniu will need some divine intervention as he faces a long stint on the sidelines. Image by HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS
  • rugby league

NRL’s Leniu sorry for racial slur, facing long ban

Jasper Bruce March 7, 2024

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.

Ezra Mam on the ball for Brisbane Broncos vs the Roosters.
 Brisbane’s Ezra Mam made an on-field complaint after being abused in the Roosters-Broncos clash. Image by HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS 

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.”