A RUGBY league club has been fined £40,000 after its fans hurled homophobic abuse at Crusaders player and former Wales rugby union captain.

Castleford Tigers have already said they will appeal yesterday’s decision by the Rugby Football League operational tribunal after being found guilty of misconduct following the match at Wrexham’s Racecourse on March 26.

The penalty has been welcomed by Crusaders chairman Ian Roberts.

The fine, £20,000 of which is payable immediately with a further £20,000 suspended until the end of 2011, was imposed after Castleford supporters subjected 35-year-old Thomas, who announced he was gay in December 2009, to homophobic abuse.

The West Yorkshire club were found guilty of unacceptable behaviour, of breaching the RFL’s Respect Policy, of misconduct by their supporters and of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the sport.

The tribunal was chaired by Judge Rodney Grant who criticised the club for failing to take steps to stop the homophobic chanting, for failing to identify the perpetrators, for failing to challenge the chanting and for their failure to undertake a meaningful inquiry afterwards.

Castleford are due to receive a full written judgment from the tribunal before the end of the week and have 15 days after the judgment is received to appeal.

Giving his backing to the move, Crusaders’ chairman Mr Roberts said: “We welcome the RFL Operational Tribunal’s punishment.

“We believe it sends a strong message out that homophobic chants and abuse will not be tolerated in rugby league.”

But Castleford’s chief executive Richard Wright has attacked the outcome, and said: “To say we are disappointed and shocked is an understatement.

“The evidence does not support the decision and does not in any way support the scale of the penalty. We totally refute the outcome of the hearing.”

Rod Findlay, a partner at sports law specialist firm, McDaniel and Co, who has been advising Castleford during the proceedings said: “There was some chanting on the day. We agreed this with the tribunal panel.

“There were three incidents lasting only a few moments, two of which were drowned out by public address announcements.”

A statement from Castleford said the club condemned any person who makes or chants obscene remarks towards players or officials, and added: “But the charges against the club are not that there was chanting, they are that the club failed to take its best endeavours to prevent or stop any chanting.

“This the club refutes totally.”

In March, Thomas, who has captained Wales and the British and Irish Lions rugby union sides, gave an interview to the Leader about his life and his decision to switch to rugby league.

Speaking at the time he said: “I want to be known first and foremost as a rugby player. I don’t want just to be known for coming out.”