Russell Packer jailed for two years for assault
As former New Zealand Warriors prop Russell Packer began serving a two-year jail sentence for assault in Sydney, his father said he was devastated at the judge's ruling.
Packer, 24, pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm after he bashed a man during a booze-fuelled night out.
His 22-year-old victim was left unconscious with a fractured eye socket.
Magistrate Greg Grogan said Packer's behaviour was cowardly and deplorable. He denied Packer's bail application ahead of an appeal against the sentence.
Packer's father, also Russell, said he was "devastated" at his son's jail sentence, and believed he has been made an example of.
Packer grew up in Foxton and had signed to play for the Newcastle Knights in the National Rugby League competition this year.
"It is real harsh," his father said of the jail sentence.
"I'm devastated ... wouldn't you be if your son just got locked up? He's playing for Newcastle Knights, he's on $400,000 and he gets locked up for something that's not seriously, you know."
"I didn't think he was going to go to jail," Packer said.
"I thought he might get fined $20,000, or something like that, and have to do community work, or do something, but don't take his freedom away."
Packer Sr said he had cancer, which made it difficult for him to go to Australia to support his son.
"But I'm there in my heart and I love him to bits," he said.
The sentence also came as a surprise to Packer's lawyer, who told Grogan he had ''absolutely no idea'' he was considering jail time.
Packer sat stoically in the courtroom as Grogan denied his application for bail pending an appeal of his sentence on February 11, although his partner, Lara Wilcox, broke down in tears as he was led away.
The court was told Packer had been kicked out of the Chambers Hotel at 1.30am on November 23 last year because he was too drunk.
He moved about 20 metres from the Martin Place pub, in downtown Sydney, then got into a disagreement with another man after being accused of stealing two cigarettes from a woman sitting nearby.
Packer punched the man in the face, causing him to fall and hit his head on the ground. He punched him several times as he lay on the ground and then stamped on his head, the court was told.
Packer's lawyer, Murugan Thangaraj, had argued Packer's immediate incarceration would be detrimental to a rehabilitation process that got under way after he was charged on November 29.
"He hasn't had anything to drink since the incident. He's under supervision from the (Newcastle Knights) and has not missed a (counselling) session.
"He has good prospects for rehabilitation."
Thangaraj submitted Packer was not at risk of re-offending and cited supportive references from several people, including Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett.
"This is the first time he's actually seen someone about issues. He has a support network where people know what issues are around him.
"There's no possibility that any sensible person would drink in those circumstances. There's nothing to suggest that he'll re-offend."
The police did not oppose bail, a decision that surprised Grogan, who said the safety of the community was paramount.
He noted Packer had no previous convictions, the rehabilitation process was ongoing but reiterated the assault was inexcusable.
"The offender has a long-standing alcohol abuse problem. He'd been drinking from an early age, he was a street kid from the age of 12.
"These are stressful times," Grogan said, referencing an escalation of alcohol-fuelled violence in Sydney.
"Whilst he has a support network to assist him, Mr Packer was, on the night of the incident, a ticking bomb.
"I'm concerned for the protection of the community if Mr Packer is released. That concern overrides the benefit of him being released."
Packer appeared stunned as two corrective services officers led him out of the courtroom.
Packer Snr said he was hoping his son's appeal would succeed, but knew nothing about his son's future in the NRL. He was worried about the impact of the imprisonment.
"It's ruined his career, it's ruined everything," Packer Sr said.
"I think they're clamping down on all the league boys."
His son was a victim of that clampdown, and also of a tougher stance in general towards punching.
"They're going to make an example out of someone, and someone that's got a high profile, that's Russ, so that's what they've done," he said.
"He's got my two darling grandkids over there ... There's that all to take into consideration, too ... my darling daughter-in-law and my moko, and now they've got no old man, he's in jail."
Last year Packer signed for the Newcastle Knights for the upcoming NRL rugby league season, but Downing Centre Local Court heard the contract had not been registered and that the player and his club would have to wait and see how the NRL reacted to the conviction.
Packer also pleaded guilty to failing to quit a licenced premises after he was ordered to leave a Sydney nightspot due to his intoxication and then sat on a chair 20 metres from the premises instead moving at least 50 metres away.
A Newcastle Knights spokeswoman said the club would issue a statement on the matter.