Penrith co-captain Nathan Cleary says he hopes the NRL fan who racially abused Latrell Mitchell never returns to the Panthers' home ground. The Rabbitohs fullback was reportedly called a 'black dog' by a spectator as he was leaving the field at half-time of Thursday night's 16-10 loss to the defending premiers at BlueBet Stadium.
The NRL launched an investigation into the incident that has sparked widespread outrage, with NRL CEO Andrew Abdo labelling it "abhorrent" on Friday and vowing to eradicate racism from the sport. While he stopped short of promising a life ban for the alleged perpetrator, Abdo promised that the game would come down hard on anyone found guilty of fuelling racial hatred.
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"The message to those outlying individuals is very clear - you are not welcome in our game," Abdo said on Friday. "You're going to be called out, and not just by players but by fans and officials. We self-regulate in our game. And eventually it becomes eradicated.
"That has to be our goal and our vision. We will do all we can to make sure we leave the game better than we found it. And that means that these types of incidents are not occurring."
Penrith co-captain Cleary, who is teammates with Mitchell at state and international level, echoed Abdo's sentiment by declaring that racism has no place in the sport. In a strongly worded reaction to Thursday night's shocking incident at his side's home ground, Cleary labelled the comments "disgusting" and suggested the culprit should be banned from attending future games there.
"It's just disgusting," Cleary said. "There's no point in a game where you should feel like you have the right to say stuff like that to a player. I hope they never come back here. They're not fans if they're saying that stuff."
Vision of the incident showed several South Sydney players reacting as they walked up the tunnel at halftime during the 16-10 loss. Speaking after the game, a furious South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou insisted life bans should be handed down to anyone found guilty of racist behaviour.
"This is not something Latrell just cops on the footy field, this is something he's had to deal with his whole life. All Indigenous people do," Demetriou said. "I can't get my head around it to be honest, I don't understand in Australia how anyone can be raised like that.
"There has to be hard and fast rules, if anyone comes close to getting racial, they are completely ruled out of our game. If it's a young kid, pull his parents out as well. It's just not on."
Latrell Mitchell abuse condemned around rugby league world
Unfortunately, Thursday night's disgusting incident is not the first time Mitchell has been targeted with racial abuse. Souths CEO Blake Solly said he was furious that their superstar fullback had been repeatedly subjected to such treatment.
"This is a deeply disappointing situation, something that our players should never be subjected to," Solly said on Friday. "We feel as a club that the strongest possible action needs to be taken against the perpetrators.
"Latrell is a strong, proud Biripi man. He stands up for himself, his teammates, his club, his family and his people. This should never be discouraged by the actions of some people with archaic views."
The Souths CEO called for fans of all clubs to help stamp out racism by immediately reporting any slur seen online or heard at a ground. "If you're a fan in the stands and you hear it, see it or read it, then call it out - just as the players from both teams responded to it in the tunnel at the time," Solly added. "This immediate response from Rabbitohs and Panthers players who heard the remark is the response everybody should take."
It's understood the fan accused of racially abusing Mitchell was seen wearing a Sydney Roosters jersey, prompting an apology from coach Trent Robinson, who rang his former player to offer his support for the player and condemnation of the fan. "It's really disappointing. We just don't represent the Roosters in that way. It's not how we want to act as Roosters," Robinson said.
"Whether we like it or not, they were wearing our colours. We have to accept that. But it doesn't mean they are a Rooster."
Abdo confirmed the NRL's integrity unit were working with NSW Police on the matter, with the investigation the game's top priority. Two fans who racially abused Greg Inglis at Bluebet Stadium in 2018 were handed indefinite bans from the NRL at the time.
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