Leo Hinekiteao just wanted to play.
Leo Hinekiteao just wanted to play.

Cruel fallout to 11-year-old's ‘disgusting’ rugby ban

HUMILIATED in front of 100 friends and spectators, banned 11-year-old Sydney rugby player Leonidas Hinekiteao is still showing up every week to cheer on his sister.

After he was publicly ordered to get off the field and left in tears, Wests Junior Rugby talent Leo has been left "traumatised" by his ordeal - but not enough to keep him away from supporting his teammates.

According to his mum, Ayla Hinekiteao, Leo has had to watch on from the sidelines as his teammates and sister Serenity play out their rugby sevens series in Sydney after being banned from playing on the back of controversial size-for-age rules.

The Sydney Junior Rugby Union size-for-age rules are designed to have junior footballers play in the most suitable competitions - but in this case it left a school student crushed.

Leo was marched from the field halfway through the Rugby 7s spring series after being judged too big for his under-11s and under-12s competition.

Mrs Hinekiteao told news.com.au the ordeal has "taken a toll" on her son to the point that he was uncertain about  returning to play rugby in 2020.

Leo Hinekiteao, top row. Photo: Ayla Hinekiteao.
Leo Hinekiteao, top row. Photo: Ayla Hinekiteao.

NSW Rugby Union and SJRU released a statement on Wednesday  explaining their decision to ban Leo from the competition, claiming officials had decided he needed to compete in an older age division.

But Mrs Hinekiteao revealed the tragic truth of the policy and said officials had failed to handle the sensitive matter with discretion.

Having claimed in scathing Facebook posts that her son was "treated like an outcast", Mrs Hinekiteao has now revealed, more than two weeks later, that her son is still traumatised by the incident.

Juniors Rugby-New South Wales Today was a complete joke! Sydney Junior Rugby Union & Waratahs you have taken this...

Posted by Ayla Hinekiteao on Saturday, 16 November 2019

"I would like Leo to keep on playing but then this has taken a toll on him and whether or not next season is still in the books, time will tell," she said.

"Leo definitely is not continuing on with the 7s comp, but he is there on the sideline supporting his team and his sister who is playing.

"At the end of the day I just hope this issue now doesn't have any impact on his decisions."

While his return to rugby union is clouded, Mrs Hinekiteao said her son would return to play rugby league next year.

Leo, of Cook Island Maori descent, has always played in his own age group when playing rugby league and it is only while playing rugby union that he has been dragged into the size-for-age controversy.

According to Mrs Hinekiteao, Leo was in August assessed under the size-for-age dispensation, according to his school's rules. She said he was found to have correctly been entered into the under-11 and under-12 grade competition based on measurements of his age, height and weight.

She said a copy of that dispensation claim was given to the SJRU.

Leonidus Hinekiteao and sister Serenity. Picture: Ayla Hinekiteao
Leonidus Hinekiteao and sister Serenity. Picture: Ayla Hinekiteao

Despite this, SJRU reportedly came to a different conclusion - that Leo was too big to be playing in his own age group.

Mrs Hinekiteao said she was asked by a SJRU official for Leo's dispensation form following the second week of the sevens competition.

She said she forwarded the dispensation form that was approved through the school sports system and wasn't contacted about the matter again until after the third round of the seven series when Leo was preparing to play a game with his team.

SJRU has also admitted it was unable to make contact with the Hinekiteao family away from the field and had to drop the bad news in person.

She said it was "disgusting" to find out halfway through the season that her son had been banned - after the full fees had been paid.

When he turned up to play in the fourth round of the season, officials reportedly refused to start the game until Leo had been taken from the field.

Wests forfeited the game when Leo's teammates walked off the field alongside him in protest of the decision.

Leo Hinekiteao with Penrith Panthers star Jarome Luai. Photo: Ayla Hinekiteao
Leo Hinekiteao with Penrith Panthers star Jarome Luai. Photo: Ayla Hinekiteao

"To be told that you can't play in your own age group because you're pretty much too big is disgusting," Mrs Hinekiteao told rnz.co.nz.

"What about those who are wanting to go and play with their mates and that want to play in their own age group? I think that needs to be brought to light within the clubs and within rugby itself … I really hope it doesn't happen to any other kid out there because it is traumatising.

"I think the humiliation part of it on Sunday has really gotten to him and it's just something that I don't really know how to deal with at the moment. It's a hard thing to have to deal with, with your child."

Leo will return for the final weeks of the sevens series in December only as a spectator, supporting his sister from the sidelines.

His mum says he won't play rugby sevens again, and there's no guarantee either of the siblings will be back playing rugby in 2020.