Former NRL player John Hopoate's claim that he was racially abused by an opponent while playing for Narraweena Hawks has been strongly denied by the club involved, Forestville Ferrets.
Hopoate was banned for 10 years - with the final five years suspended - at a NSWRL Conduct Review Panel hearing on Wednesday night after he was found guilty of three code of conduct charges following his send-off in a match last month while playing for Narraweena.
The 44-year-old, who was already serving a suspension after pleading guilty to a medium range striking offence from the same match in a Manly District Junior Rugby League competition on July 21, will not be eligible to play or have a role as an official in a rugby league match until at least July 21, 2023.
Hopoate claimed an opponent from Forestville had racially abused him.
"No one gets angry for no reason. I was called a f---ing black monkey and I didn't like it so I threatened to bash him and I'd do it again," he told the panel.
Forestville released a statement on Friday in which the club "vehemently denies the claims of racist behaviour as motivation for John's actions".
"John Hopoate was on the field for a total of two minutes ... To suggest that any of the players involved in the two tackles he was on the field made racist comments is as insulting as it is ridiculous.
"These players are extremely proud of their own [Pacific Island] heritage and are deeply offended by the accusations being levelled by Hopoate.
The Forestville statement, in full, reads:
In response to media reports following the John Hopoate NSW Rugby League Judiciary Hearing. Forestville JRLFC vehemently denies the claims of racist behaviour as motivation for John's actions. Forestville JRLFC is and has always been an inclusive and multicultural club. On the 21st of July, John Hopoate was on the field for a total of 2 minutes. During this time, he was penalised for a high tackle on a Ferrets player of Pacific Island heritage which resulted in a penalty.
Immediately following this penalty tap, the aggressive incident transpired, resulting in him being sent from the field. It is significant to note that that aggressive incident was directed at an indigenous Ferrets player. To suggest that any of the players involved in the two tackles he was on the field for made racist comments is as insulting as it is ridiculous. These players are extremely proud of their own heritage and are deeply offended by the accusations being levelled by Hopoate.
Hopoate's decision to make these public comments only after the judiciary's decision puts his integrity in question. By his own admission, he made no attempt to report any such incident to game officials during or after the incident.
Furthermore, in the week after the incident, John Hopoate attended Forestville A Grade training and apologised to every player for his actions and shook their hands. He apologised for acting like an (expletive) idiot and offered reasons for his actions that had nothing to do with the game that was played that night.
At no time did he mention any racial issues when interacting with the players.
Forestville JRLFC is confident of the integrity of our A Grade team and all of its players.