West Wallsend player Tyson Leota claims he and his teammates were racially abused - labelled "black dogs, monkeys and apes" - before an ugly all-in brawl against Dora Creek that has led to a police investigation, one team being banned, five players being stood down and the majority of the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League board stepping aside.
Mr Leota, 22, on Monday became the first person charged by police over the chaotic sideline melee at Dora Creek Workers Club Oval on September 20.
Mr Leota, who was released on parole last month after serving a year in jail for assaulting police and resisting arrest, appeared in Newcastle Local Court on Monday in handcuffs and pleaded not guilty to affray and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
He applied for bail, with his solicitor Iain Bruce acknowledging Mr Leota had thrown punches during the brawl but claiming he was acting in self-defence.
Mr Bruce said, despite the police fact sheet being silent on any racial slurs, Mr Leota claimed that earlier in the game "there were racial epithets being used", which were directed to a number of players including Mr Leota.
"Apes, monkeys, black dogs," Mr Bruce told Magistrate Andrew Miller.
Mr Bruce said Mr Leota was replaced about seven minutes before full-time and was on the bench when the game was called off in the dying stages "due to racial epithets".
"He re-entered the field to shake hands when two of his teammates were set upon by a number of people in the crowd," Mr Bruce said.
"He went to defend and protect them."
Mr Bruce claims mobile phone footage then showed "a man in a blue shirt or jumper" approached Mr Leota, who threw punches at him in self-defence.
The prosecution say the alleged victim, a spectator, was trying to defuse the situation when he was twice punched to the ground.
The brawl was captured on multiple mobile phones, with the footage circulating widely on social media over the last week.
Mr Bruce had submitted that the prosecution case against Mr Leota was weak, pointing to the mobile phone footage that he said showed his client was defending himself. But in Newcastle Local Court, technical difficulties meant the prosecution were unable to play any footage for Mr Miller. The bail application was ultimately withdrawn and the matter was adjourned overnight to Toronto Local Court.