A lawyer in Sydney has warned the chief executive of the main sponsor of the Warriors that he faces $1 million in defamation damages after challenging the integrity of the NRL judges.
Jason Paris, CEO of telco One NZ, went on a social media frenzy during the Warriors 18-6 Magic Round defeat, accusing officials of “cheating at the highest level”.
Speaking to News Corp, lawyer Paul McGirr argued that Paris’s comments suggested he considered “cheating” worse than “Lance Armstrong, [the] the cheating scandals at the Olympics by East Germany and the Russian doping scandals.
McGirr added that Paris’s remarks appeared to be “defamatory” and could incur huge financial costs.
“It leaves no doubt that he is referring to the person in charge of the bunker [Chris Butler] and also a judge [Todd Smith],’ he said.
The Warriors had two players convicted for sins against Penrith with Demitric Sifakula (right) showing a yellow card for punching Nathan Cleary as the brawl broke out
Jackson Ford was convicted of a hip fall and has since been charged by the NRL judiciary with dangerous contact in the first degree
“Defamation proceedings are notoriously and extremely costly in terms of legal fees and settlement amounts.
“You want concrete evidence to back you up if you’re going to accuse an official of fraud. It could cost him anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, there is no limit, depending on the damage to the two judges’ reputations.
McGirr’s comments came as the NRL’s judges union sought legal advice on Paris’ remarks.
“This is not required and the comments are appalling,” said Matt Cecchin, head of Professional Match Referees in Rugby League – which represents the game’s elite umpires.
“It doesn’t help or improve the referees in our game, or really any referees. Therefore, we will do everything in our power to ensure that such comments are eliminated from our game and eliminated from every game for any officials.
“Any mention of bias, knowingly or unknowingly, is simply unacceptable. It hurts our game on every level.
“We feel strong enough to seek legal advice and, based on the information we use, we will take all necessary measures to ensure that this is seen as a deterrent to anyone thinking of making such bias comments.”
However, on Monday, Paris doubled.
Jason Paris, CEO of major sponsors of the Warriors, unloaded the NRL judges on Saturday after the Kiwi outfit had two players with a sin in a loss to the Panthers
Paris claimed judges’ behavior was ‘cheating at the highest level’
In a tweet, he retracted his allegation that the referees were “cheating” but insisted on “unconscious bias” against the Warriors.
“I believe there is unconscious bias against the Warriors every week and this needs to be addressed.
“All we want is consistency, but we don’t get it,” he said.
“Take the feedback out of it and analyze video footage of previous matches and compare our decisions with (sic) other teams.
“I think we’re going to find out we’re at a disadvantage – then we can work out why and take steps to fix it.”
The Warriors were stunned by referee Todd Smith’s decision to overlook a possible high attack on captain Tohu Harris from Panthers enforcer Moses Leota.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was also sent in for a head injury evaluation after being faced with a swing by Tyrone Peachey that went unpunished.
Adding to their frustration was the fact that the Warriors also had rookie Demitric Sifakula (punches) and Jackson Ford (hip tackle) sent to the sin basket.
Paris retracted its allegations of fraud on Monday but insisted there was an “unconscious bias” against the Warriors that the NRL needed to address
Meanwhile, NRL head of football Graham Annesley launched a fierce defense of his referees.
While he did not elaborate on Harris’ High Shot, he did clarify that the rulings regarding Sifakula, Ford, and Watene-Zelezniak were correct.
“I will be measured as much as I can; I’m a little hot under the collar because of these things,” he said.
“There is no comment that could be worse.
“The judges work very, very hard to give their best, not only at the NRL level, but also the kids at the park on the weekends.
“The nature of the game is that there will be no consensus on the decisions they make.
“We can question their decisions, but we cannot question their integrity.
“This calls into question the integrity of the entire NRL administration, because we are the ones who appoint these people.”
He said the suggestions of bias towards the Warriors were ridiculous.
NRL head of football Graham Annesley launched a fierce defense of his referees on Monday
“I can go to eight losing clubs in any week and they’ll all tell me they didn’t get the green,” he said.
“It’s not something unique to a New Zealand band.”
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo also dismissed Paris’ comment and confirmed that an investigation was underway into his remarks.
Warriors officials will meet with the organization this week to review the decisions in question, but it is understandable that the NRL is unsure how to proceed with any punishment given that Paris is not a member of the Warriors’ staff.