Canberra star Joey Leila has been slammed by league experts, fans and even his coach after a disrespectful try celebration in the Raiders’ miracle victory over the Bulldogs.
The controversial centre had endured a stinker of a night through the opening 79 minutes of the Belmore Oval clash, before powering through Bulldogs veteran Brett Morris and slamming the ball down to seal a remarkable last-minute win.
However it was the Samoan international’s antics after his put-down that had the rugby league world talking, as he got up and gave an absolute earful to Morris as he lay on the turf.
Poor form from Leilua. Had a nightmare night, scores the winning try, and then gets up and gives the Bulldogs players a spray. He didn’t deserve to be on the winning team.
— Brent Read (@brentread_7) July 7, 2018
Scoring the match-winning try shouldn’t spare Joey Leilua from being dropped. He was ordinary for most of the match & a major reason Canberra trailed late in the game. Plus, his theatrics after touching down were downright disdainful #NRLBulldogsRaiders
— paul suttor (@paulsuttor) July 7, 2018
@NRL please fine Leilua for that absolutely disgraceful sportsmanship. no place for it in our game
— mitch_1 (@mitch_bulldogs) July 7, 2018
And the criticism didn’t stop there, with a number of high-profile league experts joining in to condemn the unsportsmanlike act.
Penrith boss Phil Gould argued Leilua’s priorities were a mess, given he was more focused on rubbing Morris’ nose in it than celebrating with his mates.
“He’s dived over in the corner in the last minute of play not just to score a try, not just to win the game, but to keep their season alive and his first thought is to abuse the opposition players,” Gould said on 100% Footy.
“Your first thought is to turn around and celebrate with your teammates. For me that’s an indication of where the player’s head is at.
“Your first thought is to celebrate with your teammates, not to run into the crowd or abuse the bloke on the ground or run around with your finger in the air thinking, ‘How good am I’ or doing the Hayne Plane.
“Your first thought is your teammates. Turn around and celebrate with your teammates. That’s a big moment. He didn’t want anything to do with his teammates. I don’t get it.”
Veteran Daily Telegraph reporter Phil Rothfield was even more scathing of Leilua, labelling the incident “one of the ugliest acts” he’d ever seen on a football field.
Rothfield also revealed Raiders coach Ricky Stuart had addressed the issue at the team video session, telling Leilua his antics were “not acceptable”.
“What he did at the end of that game when he scored the match-winning try was one of the ugliest acts I’ve seen on a football field, his sledging of the Morris boys,” Rothfield told NRL360.
“And I tell you who agrees with me, Ricky Stuart. I spoke to him this afternoon and said, ‘What are you going to do about this guy?’ Well you know they had a team meeting this afternoon, all the players were there about to start the video session.
“You know what, he opened the meeting with Joey Leilua’s behaviour at the end of the game. He said it’s not acceptable at this club, he doesn’t want to see him do it again this year.”
Leilua did find some support however from former Raiders tormentor Micheal Ennis who said it was easy for players to get caught up in the emotion of such a moment.
“I look back on certain moments in my career too that I’d like my time over again,” Ennis told Fox Sports.
“But it’s not until you mature and you get older and you actually step away from the game and you look back at some of those.
“BJ will look back at that with utter disappointment whether it’s today or in four or five years time.
“He’s better than that, the reason BJ’s not playing (Origin) on Wednesday night is because of those areas in his game. It’s as simple as that, he’s a terrific player.”
Some punters on social media also justified Leilua’s behaviour, saying the Bulldogs players had been taunting him in the second half after a string of mistakes.
However the video evidence certainly didn’t paint him as a victim, with Leilua clearly seen throwing the ball at the head of Josh Morris after he was bundled into touch with six minutes left in the game.