Rugby League: Timana Tahu reveals backlash, death threats over State of Origin racism scandal

Rugby league's NRL may be celebrating its multicultural round this weekend, but it still has issues with racism. 

Dual Aussie international Timana Tahu was in New Zealand recently as part of his NRL role promoting indigenous elite pathways. 

The role marks a turnaround, considering he received death threats after walking out on the NSW State of Origin team during a 2010 racism scandal.

Tahu is a proud Australian international in both league and rugby - and he's also proud of his dual heritage.

"My mum's Aboriginal and my dad's Māori, and I'm very fortunate to have both indigenous cultures," he said.

In 2010, he walked out on the New South Wales team, when assistant coach Andrew Johns made a racist comment about Queensland's indigenous players.

"It was towards Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, Sam Thaiday, Johnathan Thurston - all the black and brown boys,said Tahu. "It wasn't aimed at me, but I know how it felt being aimed at me, so it was a tipping edge, you know?

"For me, it was just walking out. It was just walking away from an Origin jersey."

The walkout - and why it happened - was big news, but when he made his stand against racism, many in Australian league circles seemed to turn their backs on him forever.

"It cost me a lot," he said. "It cost me finances, cost me representative jumpers.

"I became a person that was known that I carry too much baggage when I go into a club.

"I felt like I got backslammed. I've been given death threats.

"People wonder why we're talking about death threats to my kids. I had to pull my kids out of school, we had to go in hiding, so we went through a lot... me, my wife and my kids and the family that were around me."

Timana Tahu.
Timana Tahu. Photo credit: Newshub.

Tahu never rose to the same heights again, because he was considered damaged goods.

He says former Kiwis coach Howie Tamati helped resurrect his career for another four years by getting him in the NZ Māori team.

"My mana was down and I was struggling a lot," he said. "I was ready to give up footy, but through him and through the NZ Māori Rugby League, I got to build my mana back up."

Last year - 12 years after Johns' comment - Tahu received a formal apology from the NRL for the way the game failed him.

This year, he returned to his father's ancestral lands, his iwi and the people of Te Arawa in Rotorua.

Ironically, he's now the NRL's senior manager of indigenous elite pathways. He is highly involved in the organisation of the All Stars clash between Māori and Australian indigenous players, as well as everything that goes into the NRL Indigenous Round.

Rugby league is changing, but too slowly. Rabbitohs star Lattrell Mitchell was allegedly targeted by a teenage fan, who shouted racist comments just a week ago.

"It's just not on," said Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou. "I shouldn't have to be able to come here as a coach and lead a team for players to be racially abused.

"Life bans, if anyone wants to make racial abuse get them out of the game." 

The problem doesn't just rear its head in the NRL. Grassroots NSW league still sees four incidents of racism against indigenous players a week.

Rugby League: Timana Tahu reveals backlash, death threats over State of Origin racism scandal