James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Sport star's jail term stuns family

Former Warrior promised his father 'everything is sweet' - but judge says attack was 'deplorable, cowardly'.

Russell Packer with partner Lara Wilcox - the couple have two children.
Russell Packer with partner Lara Wilcox - the couple have two children.

Kiwi rugby league international Russell Packer told his father during a Christmas Day Skype session that "everything is sweet" and he was confident he would be bailed on a late-night assault charge.

The 24-year-old didn't even pack any clothes before his court appearance in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court yesterday.

But the former Warrior was sent to jail for two years, leaving his partner Lara Wilcox devastated and so upset she struggled to talk to Packer's New Zealand-based family last night.

"She's upset to the max, she's gutted," Packer's father Russell snr told the Herald. "It's a shocker, she's devastated ... She wasn't saying much, mate, she was crying, she was in tears."

Packer, who has been refused bail while he appeals against the sentence, pleaded guilty to assault and failing to leave a venue after a fight that left a man with two broken bones during a late-night scuffle in central-city Sydney in November.

Packer, who left the Warriors at the end of last year's season and signed with the Newcastle Knights, had been asked to leave the Chambers Hotel because he was drunk, the court heard.

He then walked 20m to a public seating area where he got into a disagreement with a man.

Russell Packer.
Russell Packer.

The court heard he repeatedly punched the 22-year-old and stomped on his head in the attack, which left the victim unconscious with a fractured eye socket.

In sentencing, Magistrate Greg Grogan described the assault as deplorable and cowardly and said the courts were sick of alcohol-related violence as he imposed the maximum penalty available to him on Packer.

Mr Packer snr last night told the Herald he was shocked. He said his son, who had started pre-season training with the Knights and could have been a chance for the Auckland Nines next month, was in a good mood at the time as Ms Wilcox and their two young children had recently joined him in Australia.

"He told me 'I've got two lawyers on it, dad, everything is sweet'."

Mr Packer snr told Ms Wilcox he'd spoken to a friend who could help him try to get bail but the only words she could say were: "Thank you".

"It will take a few days to get over. She's stuck in Sydney and the driver is in jail - I don't know how she's getting back from Sydney. She was expecting him to go home. They drove over there and went out for tea, breakfast and everything."

It would take time for the reality to hit home. "She just has to go through that period ... you can't get much sense out of her."

Mr Packer snr said he could not understand why his son was jailed, having admitted his guilt early on.

"It's a bolt out of the blue, I'm gutted, mate. There are people around who do more serious things and they get a slap on the hand."

The jailing comes as Sydney grapples with an outbreak of violent assaults.

"I think they're making a point, people going around king-hitting people. So they making Russ an example ..."

Packer's lawyer, Murugan Thangaraj, told the court his client over-reacted and while the injuries were serious, the assault was not a king-hit. Packer was having counselling for anger management and alcohol issues.

New Zealand rugby league chief executive Phil Holden said the NZRL had run extensive alcohol and anti-violence education programmes for young players.

Packer signed with the Knights in October but the NRL had refused to register his contract because of the charges he was facing, pending an investigation.

The Knights said Packer had been stood down from club duties but would not comment further.

Russell Packer

* Born October 9 1989
*Height: 188cm
*Weight: 112kg
*Position: Prop
*Signed up for the Warriors in 2006, aged 16, made his first-grade debut at 18
*Played 110 matches for the club over six seasons
*Left at the end of last season for Newcastle

- additional reporting: Andrew Koubaridis, AAP

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

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