Leniu ‘not a racist’, declares Roosters coach Robinson

George Clarke |

Roosters coach Trent Robinson is standing by prop Spencer Leniu, saying the player is not a racist.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson is standing by prop Spencer Leniu, saying the player is not a racist.

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”.

“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.”

Trent Robinson regrets the words he used immediately after the Spencer Leniu racism row broke in LA. (Rob Prezioso/AAP PHOTOS)

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.”