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Racism allegations shroud the NRL’s first ever Las Vegas game

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The NRL is investigating alleged racism directed at Broncos five-eighth Ezra Mam during the competition's first round in Las Vegas
Ezra Mam has accused another player of racism during an NRL game in Las Vegas

Brisbane Broncos player Ezra Mam has accused the Roosters’ Spencer Leniu of on field racism in the NRL’s first round at Las Vegas over the weekend.

The NRL launched its season with two games in the U.S. It was as part of a bid to attract an international audience to the game.

More than 40,000 people turned out to watch the back-to-back matches in Vegas.

However, the initial success of the Vegas round has been overshadowed by news the NRL is investigating alleged racism by one of its players.

Vegas round

The Vegas round kicked off on Saturday evening (local time) at Allegiant Stadium. It’s the same venue as last month’s NFL Super Bowl.

The Manly Sea Eagles defeated the South Sydney Rabbitohs 36-24, before the Sydney Roosters downed the Brisbane Broncos 20-10.

Play was briefly paused in the second game when Broncos five-eighth Ezra Mam made a formal complaint to the referee. Mam accused Roosters prop Spencer Leniu of calling him a racial slur.

The slur

The referee responded to the incident by placing Leniu “on report”. That means the incident will be investigated by the NRL’s governing body.

Ezra Mam is a Kuku Yalanji and Torres Strait Islander man who has spoken openly about representing his culture on the field, including during his appearances in the NRL’s Indigenous Round.

“It’s very important expressing our Indigenous cultures on the big stage and it also gets to recognise all the Indigenous players and role models that we had,” he said last year.

Club’s response

After the game, Broncos coach Kevin Walters told reporters Mam was “pretty upset”. He added he was “adamant” that Leniu used a racial slur against him.

Walters said the club was supporting Mam after the incident. He confirmed the NRL will “police and adjudicate” the alleged incident.

Captain Adam Reynolds said: “we certainly don’t stand for racism, and we’ll support Ezra, get around him and make sure he’s alright”.

Leniu’s response

Spencer Leniu downplayed the incident in a post-match interview with radio station Triple M.

It was “all fun and games,” he said, adding that he wasn’t “worried” about the complaint made against him.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson said the complaint ”will go through the formal process, as it should”.

Next steps

Members of the NRL judiciary committee are expected to analyse footage and audio from the on-field incident.

Their decision could include formal action against Leniu.

Reaction

Former player and Gunggari man Johnathan Thurston said it was “emotional” to hear of racial slurs being used during NRL matches in “this day and age”.

Shortly after the match, Thurston said: “40,000 people, two massive cracking games, and now we’re dealing with this.”

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