Disgraced NSW assistant coach Andrew Johns let fly with several offensive racist slurs including “coon, Abbo, nigger and monkey” before winger Timana Tahu’s dramatic Origin walk-out, an Aboriginal leader said.
Sol Bellear – an NRL Indigenous Council board member – told AAP he had spoken to senior members of Tahu’s family who revealed the full extent of Johns’ comments during a Blues bonding session in northern NSW last Wednesday.
“It was all the usual things: `you back “c”, Abbo, coon, nigger, monkey’ – they were were all used,” said Bellear.
“It wasn’t just directed at (Israel) Folau and GI (Greg Inglis) it was at (Sam) Thaiday and JT (Johnathan Thurston).”
John’s manager denies claims
But Johns’ manager John Fordham dismissed Bellear’s allegations.
“These claims are totally refuted and rejected,” he said. NSW skipper Kurt Gidley also came to Johns’ defence on Tuesday, saying his former Newcastle teammate was not a racist.
He also denied the NSW Origin set-up had a racist culture, dismissing the suggestion as “outrageous”.
“It is definitely not acceptable to make a racial slur – to label NSW that is ridiculous,” Gidley said.
Tahu said he had no regrets over his actions as he spoke briefly with reporters in Newcastle on Tuesday, but did reveal he had been in contact with Johns and was eager for another meeting.
“This has been a rough couple of days but I have made my stand,” he said. “I have spoken to Joey. I hope to speak to him again very soon.”
NRL CEO David Gallop urged Johns and Tahu to settle their differences sooner rather than later.
“I would like to see him get together with Andrew Johns, perhaps with some professional help as the next step,” Gallop told reporters.
But former international Steve Renouf – who believed Johns should be banned from rugby league coaching and commentary roles – demanded more from the NRL, urging them to show some “bollocks” and tackle racism head on.
“As a body, the NRL can do something about it and this is a perfect time to push ahead with it,” Renouf told AAP on Monday.
“There’s been no co-ordinated response (from rugby league) and what has been done, has come from outside the league.
“This wasn’t just a one-off. “If they have to resort to using racism to get the boys up for a game, then they’re in very deep trouble.
“To use that in a team bonding is disgraceful.
“If what Timana is saying is true, and I’ll take Timana’s word for it, then it needs to be addressed urgently.”
Bellear said Tahu’s family favoured a mediation process where three or four people, including Tahu, sat down with Johns and explained to him why his comments were so hurtful and disrespectful.
“Rather than him do community work in an Aboriginal organisation, he should go out and talk to some former players and other non-Aboriginal players because they have no idea how hurtful it is when those things are said,” he said.
Bellear said he would also take a proposal by Penrith captain Petero Civoniceva to play a “round against racism” to an Australian Rugby League board meeting in Brisbane on Thursday.
Bellear, who was the inaugural manager of the Indigenous All Stars earlier this year, said NSW team management also had a case to answer for after attempting to cover-up the Tahu affair.
“Right from the beginning this has been covered up,” he said.
“The ARL I don’t think knew about it for quite some time later but the (NSW) team management has really got something to answer for.”
Meanwhile, NRL club Parramatta said they were reviewing Johns’ assistant coaching role and would meet with Fordham in the next 48 hours “at which time a decision will be reached”.
The Nine Network has already pledged its support for its commentator while another of his employers, Austereo, has also backed Johns.