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'The game has failed': Johnathan Thurston slams NRL for length of Leniu "monkey" slur ban

Jarred Cross -

Indigenous rugby league great Johnathan Thurston has slammed the NRL's ban handed to Rooster forward Spencer Leniu for calling Broncos half Ezra Mam a "monkey" in Las Vegas.

Speaking to Channel Nine on Tuesday morning, Thurston said "the game has failed" in their decision of an eight-week suspension at the judiciary on Monday night.

Thurston was disappointed with the length of the ban, which he believes wasn't sure "fit the crime" and should have cut Leniu's season in half.

"I was looking at probably 12 weeks...for racial vilification on the field," Thurston said, via Nine.

"I understand he has owned up to what he said, but the NRL - we have the Indigenous All Stars match, we have Indigenous Round, NRL Indigenous strategy team. So we're saying and doing all the right things, but I definitely don't think the punishment has fit the crime."

The Queensland Origin icon said he was "emotional" having to talk about the incident which "opened up a lot of scars for our people", and also left Ezra "shattered" post-match.

Throughout the hearing, Leniu and his counsel argued there was no racial intent behind the remark.

Leniu will not be available to play until round 10 of the NRL season after calling Ezra Mam a "monkey" in the Broncos-Roosters clash in Las Vegas. (Image: AAP)

It didn't convince the panel, who "did not accept the player's claimed ignorance that he was not aware that 'monkey' was, when used towards the Indigenous community, a racist term".

"In light of that finding, the Panel was satisfied that the offending fell at a high degree of objective seriousness," Judiciary chair Geoffrey Bellew wrote in his summary of the findings.

After the result was handed down, the Roosters released a statement apologising for the pain caused to Ezra and the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, but reiterated that "In no way did he (Leniu) mean to direct the term to Ezra in a racial way.

Thurston didn't buy it, and thought an opportunity to make a strong statement was passed-on by the league.

"There's only one way that that term is used, and that's racially," he said.

"The NRL had a great opportunity there to make a stand, not only for the game but for society as well.

"Sports people are held to a higher standard than the rest of the community, but I think the game has failed in this instance.

"I don't think the eight weeks is sufficient for what has been said and the mental scars that have been brought up and what our culture has endured over the history since colonisation."

Thurston also said some support needed to be offered to Leniu.

"You've got to check on Spencer as well, I understand he's copped a fair bit of abuse for it. This is an education piece, we need to make sure both parties are being supported," he said, via Nine.

On Monday night NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo commended Mam, who reported the incident to the on-field referee immediately after it occurred, for "speaking up and taking an stand".

Abdo said the judiciary's decision "underscores the zero tolerance rugby league has for racism".

"From this sad event some important lessons can be learned," he said.


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