The NRL has been drawn into a racial abuse drama during the New Zealand Warriors' game against the Penrith Panthers on the Central Coast.
As the Panthers claimed their ninth straight win with a 18-12 victory — a club record — the accusation reared its ugly head.
After the Panthers opened up a 10-0 lead reports emerged during the first half that several fans had been kicked out of the ground for the alleged vile attack.
Steve Roach reported that there had allegedly been racial abuse directed at Indigenous Panthers player Brent Naden.
"Boys, there's been a bit of racial abuse down here on the sideline," he said. "A couple of fans have been giving it to Brent Naden. They have been escorted out of the ground."
Naden is a proud Wiradjuri man from Wellington in Central West NSW and even helped create the side's 2020 Indigenous jersey.
Naden's Penrith teammates jumped to his defence. Halfback Nathan Cleary wrote on Instagram: "Pieces of s***. WTF is wrong with some people."
Winger Josh Mansour added: "Enough's enough, they'll get what's coming."
Panthers utility Tyrone May called the alleged perpetrators "maggots".
Commentators blasted the alleged vile behaviour of the spectators.
Speaking on Channel 9's coverage of the Dragons' win over Parramatta, Newcastle legend Andrew Johns called for life bans if the allegations were proven to be true.
"It's just not acceptable," Johns said. "We don't want these sorts of people in the NRL and if they're found guilty, they should be banned for life."
NRL great Braith Anasta told Fox League: "That's disgusting. Crazy, don't let them back in ever."
Fox Sports' Jess Yates said the behaviour was "absolutely unacceptable" and Penrith icon Greg Alexander called it "a disgrace".
"These clowns should never get into an NRL game again and their pictures should be up on every home ground to make sure they don't enter the ground because if this is true, that's the end of those blokes, they've seen their last live game," he said.
The Panthers had to hold out the gutsy Warriors in the second half to hang on for the six-point win, but it was overshadowed as the investigations begin.
There are two potential investigations to be undertaken with police to pursue if Naden chooses to file an official complaint, while the NRL are also set to look into the allegations with the Panthers and Central Coast Stadium reportedly filing official reports to go to the NRL's Integrity Unit.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary admitted the alleged slurs had affected Naden during the game.
"He took offence to it at the time, but he's okay now," Cleary said in the post-match press conference.
"I think it happened more than once. I don't really know the exact details and there'll need to be some sort of investigation. After that our main objective is making sure Brent is all right. "He's kay, it definitely affected him, he said he was surprised that he was affected by it.
"I don't know what that means, or whether it was something more than he's had before."
Acting NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said the allegations were extremely serious.
"Racism and vilification will not be tolerated in our game," he said. "Bringing communities and cultures together is part of rugby league. We pride ourselves on being inclusive and taking a leadership role in driving social change.
"Any fan found to have racially abused a player or another fan will not be welcome at our games.
"We have shown in the past that we will take the strongest possible action to ensure fans guilty of racial abuse are banned from attending."
New Zealand Warriors CEO Cameron George was quick to release a statement condemning the spectators who appeared to be wearing Warriors gear.
"We do not condone any sort of racial remarks towards anyone playing rugby league or in general and we completely support a tough stance against this behaviour," the statement said. "The Warriors embrace all cultures and race and proudly promote inclusiveness of all cultures and race in our great game."