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'Most suspended player' in Australian rugby league handed 10-year ban until 2028

John Hopoate, 44, has previously served a total of 45 weeks of suspensions in his NRL career.

Hopoate: alleges that he was responding to racial abuse (file photo).
Hopoate: alleges that he was responding to racial abuse (file photo).
Image: AAP/PA Images

A FORMER AUSTRALIAN international has been handed a 10-year ban from rugby league following a violent row in a minor league match.

John Hopoate, 44, has previously served a total of 45 weeks of suspensions in his NRL career — making him the most suspended player in the game’s history.

On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to a series of charges arising out of last month’s game between the Narraweena Hawks and the Forestville Ferretts. They included striking a player, threatening an opponent, and abusing an official.

Fox Sports Australia — who previously published footage of the incident — report that, as part of his defence, Hopoate alleged that he was the victim of racial abuse.

“I was too angry to say it because all I wanted to do was slap the guy who was being a smart arse,” he said.

“It’s unacceptable but are we going to let these people get away with racism?”

Hopoate will be banned until at least 21 July 2023, with the final five years of his sentence suspended.

“Every governing body has an obligation to the participants who play our game to ensure they can play in a safe and enjoyable environment,” NSW Rugby League chief executive David Trodden said.

“Incidents like these, which challenge that safe and enjoyable environment and damage the reputation of our sport, have no place in our game and must be dealt with appropriately to protect our game and the vast majority of participants who respect its rules.”

Hopoate won two international caps for Australia at the 1995 Rugby League World Cup.

His previous charges include a 12-week ban in 2001 for poking his finger into opponents’ backsides and a 17-week ban in 2005 following a sickening elbow which let an opponent unconscious.

Following the latter suspension, he embarked on a career in professional boxing (12-5, 11 KOs) which saw him face former world heavyweight champion Oliver McCall — then aged 44 — in 2009 before Hopoate hung up his gloves in 2010.

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Niall Kelly

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