A lawyer acting on behalf of the Tongan rugby league team has raised doubts about referee Matt Cecchin's mental health history, in the wake of Tonga's controversial World Cup semi-final loss to England last week.

The Tongan lawyer who filed a personal expression of concern about the circumstances of the decision said that Cecchin's previous issues with anxiety and mental health should have been taken into account by the tournament organisers and the Rugby League International Federation.

Read more:
Tonga drop legal bid to halt World Cup final, seek redemption clash against England

In his six page submission to RLIF, Auckland based lawyer Nalesoni Tupou asked if Cecchin was "fit and proper" to participate in the tournament.

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"My question to you – knowing that the referee has had mental health issues in the past – should there not be a medical certificate to confirm the referee was fit and proper to participate as a referee in this tournament," said Tupou, in his statement to the RLIF.

"If this issue was not addressed by your organization before he officiated this game, then I say again that I want to express my concern for lack or not addressing this mental health issue before the game."

"In other words, please advise of your progress for conducting a review of the health issues of the referee about his ability or inability on mental health grounds."

Andrew Fifita of Tonga questions the referee during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Semi Final match between Tonga and England. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Andrew Fifita of Tonga questions the referee during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Semi Final match between Tonga and England. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Cecchin is the most experienced referee in the NRL, and recognized as one of the past. But he admitted this year to having mental health issues in the past, including a panic attack before an NRL match in 2016, and was announced as one of the NRL's state of mind ambassadors earlier this year.

Cecchin's failure to allow technology to be used, especially given the significance of the match, sparked widespread protests throughout Auckland, as well as an online petition signed by tens of thousands.

Barristers Kahungunu Barron-Afeaki S.C. and Tupou, who had taken the initiative to act in an advisory role to Tonga Rugby League, had considered filing an injunction against the staging of the World Cup final on Saturday but have now decided not to go down that path.

Siliva Havili of Tonga performs the Sipi Tau prior to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Quarter Final match between Tonga and Lebanon. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Siliva Havili of Tonga performs the Sipi Tau prior to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup Quarter Final match between Tonga and Lebanon. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

"There will be no more actions in that area," said Barron-Afeaki. "We considered all options, and it would have been a test case, as such High Court injunctions of that nature haven't been tried before in sport. But in the end the timeframes made it too difficult...and now we would prefer to look forward."

Casting ahead, Barron-Afeaki said that the Tongan Rugby League wants a "redemption" clash - or series - with England added to next year's international calendar.

"We want to make it happen and we think it can," said Barron-Afeaki. "If it's done right this game could be as big as State of Origin. It will be about redemption for Tonga and should attract massive interest."

There are obvious logistical challenges, but Barron-Afeaki said Tongan officials hope the match could be played in England preceding the Kiwis tour in November next year.

"You could clip it on to that tour," said Barron-Afeaki. "That's the obvious way to do it."
Barron-Afeaki said the Tonga Rugby League will be making formal approaches to the Rugby League International Federation over the next few days.

WHERE TO GET HELP

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

Or, if you need to talk to someone else, the following helplines are available:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633

NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)

KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)

WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757

SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666