Spencer Leniu has been banned for eight games after using a racial slur during the Australian NRL’s season-opening round in Las Vegas.

A National Rugby League judiciary on Monday rejected a claim by Sydney Roosters forward Leniu that he didn’t know he was racially vilifying Ezra Mam when he directed the slur at the Brisbane Broncos player in the March 2 match.

The 23-year-old Leniu has Samoan heritage and has represented its national team. He was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia as a child.

He signed for the Roosters this season after playing for the defending champion Penrith Panthers since 2019.

Mam is an Indigenous Australian who has Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

Leniu issued a public apology to Mam before the judiciary hearing, and offered to fly to Brisbane to apologise in person.

The Australian Associated Press quoted Leniu as telling the judiciary he thought he was “one brown man saying something to another brown man” and wasn’t aware of the racist connotations of his comment.

Mam reacted immediately during the game and complained to the referee, with the support of team-mates. Leniu initially described the comment as “banter” during a post-match interview but later said he learned of the context after getting feedback on social media.

“I didn’t know how much that meant to the Indigenous community and his family,” said Leniu, who pleaded guilty to contrary conduct.

Mam didn’t attend the judiciary hearing but, in a written statement to the panel, said he was so angry when he heard the slur that he couldn’t focus on the game.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said he commended Mam for taking a stand.

“It has been warming to see the game rally around him,” Abdo said. “I also acknowledge Spencer Leniu’s genuine remorse and apology and ask everyone to consider his wellbeing.”

Leniu will be eligible to return to play on May 12.

The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and Sydney Roosters opened the NRL season with wins as part of a double-header at Las Vegas’ Allegiant stadium. The Sea Eagles had a 36-24 victory over South Sydney before the Roosters beat the Broncos 20-10.