John Hopoate has been banned from any involvement in rugby league for 10 years for a fight in a Manly A-Grade match last month which he claims was sparked by vile racial taunts.
Hopoate fronted the NSW Rugby League conduct review panel on Wednesday night after pleading guilty to three counts of contrary conduct and one of striking just minutes after coming off the bench while filling in for Narraweena against Forestville.
The ban sees him rubbed out immediately for five years, before another five are suspended with Hopoate required to apply for any role he wishes to fill in that time.
Under the facts read out to Hopoate, it was claimed he threatened to “smash” an opposition trainer, told a Forestville official to “f*** off” and said to an opposing player while standing behind the bench: “You’re dead, I’m going to smash you, you dog.”
But in a tense 20-minute hearing in which the former Manly and Wests Tigers winger unsuccessfully asked media to leave the room, he claimed he’d only been provoked by the opposing player before the incident.
“No-one gets angry for no reason … I was called a ‘f***king black monkey’ and I didn’t like it so I threatened to bash him and I’d do it again,” Hopoate told the panel.
The former NSW and Kangaroos representative also claimed he was before the panel because of his reputation.
But when asked why he didn’t report the racial slurs to match officials at the time, he said it was because he “wasn’t a bitch”.
“I was too angry to say it because all I wanted to do was slap the guy who was being a smart arse,” he said.
“It’s unacceptable (behaviour) but are we going to let these people get away with racism?
“I’d do the same thing here if someone called me a f***ing black monkey.”
Hopoate apologised for the incident in which he accepted he’d carried on like “a friggin’ mug”, and also brought with him letters from an under-16s Cromer Kingfishers girls’ team which he coaches.
Panel chairman John Walford told the 44-year-old he should have reported the racial taunts to match officials, and said he gave them little weight when considering the sentence as they had not been relayed to the referee.
He also claimed the incident wasn’t isolated and took into account Hopoate’s past indiscretions, which include 45 weeks of NRL suspensions and other local matters.
NSWRL chief executive David Trodden said it was important the matter was dealt with.
“Incidents like these, which challenge that safe and enjoyable environment and damage the reputation of our sport, have no place in our game and must be dealt with appropriately to protect our game and the vast majority of participants who respect its rules,” he said.