Remember Russell Packer? The former Warriors prop who viciously assaulted a man in a drunken rage outside a Sydney nightclub in 2013 and who ended up spending a year in prison as a consequence?

The custodial sentence came as a shock to most people - not because the crime didn't warrant it.

But because high-profile sportsmen seem to get away with doing much worse, with much less consequence.

I wrote about the case at the time, praising the judge for having the cojones to give a common thug the punishment he deserved.


The NRL tore up his contract with the Dragons and banned him from playing in the league for a year and, quite honestly, I thought that would be the end of Packer.

Turns out I was wrong. I was in my hotel room in Dunedin this week and turned on the telly before I went to bed. Flicking through the channels, I came across a sports show where four women interview a league player and this week, it was Russell Packer.

It was a revealing interview.

This softly spoken, self-aware, intelligent young man was nothing like the oik who used to make headlines for urinating on himself in the middle of a game and being involved in drunken assaults.

This was a man who had completely and utterly turned his life around.

He knew he had no one to blame but himself for his incarceration but he said the experience came with a silver lining.

The turning point came, he said, when his partner and children came to visit him, and his daughter asked him if he would come to her fourth birthday party. He couldn't, of course. He was behind bars.

It was then he started the process of transforming himself into the father, partner and person he needed to be.

For people who are cynical about redemption stories, I urge you to watch the show or read some of the interviews Packer has done in recent years.

He underwent counselling. In the past, he said, he'd pretend to do the work when instructed to do so by his clubs, but he was never committed to it.

This time, he went deep and opened himself up completely and he said it was one of the hardest things he's done. He stopped drinking and that can't have been easy, because he was regularly drinking more than a dozen beers a session from age 12. Kombucha is now his tipple of choice, apparently - he even makes his own.

And he made the Dean's Merit List at the University of Wollongong where he studied over the past couple of years for a degree in commerce and accounting.

He managed to avoid being deported from Australia and when he was given the all-clear to play league again, he played so well for the Dragons that Wests Tigers offered him a four-year deal. Packer is now co-captain of the Tigers and one of the senior leadership team. It truly is a remarkable transformation.

Packer says that without serving jail time, he doesn't know where he'd be now. He's just sorry someone had to get hurt for him to have his road to Damascus experience - I paraphrase.

He has tried to make amends to his victim - reports a couple of months ago say he's close to paying off the $300,000 compensation he was ordered to pay the young man he put in hospital.

I was truly impressed. I had written him off. But then I didn't know him. All I knew was from the headlines.

Those who knew him stuck by him. His partner was there for him, his teammates visited regularly and the Dragons club members persuaded him he should aim for a university degree.

He has a job that he is good at, that pays him well and allows him to look after his family. All important factors in his ability to evolve from a waste of space to a good man. Would that more of our young offenders were able to have that same support and the same opportunities to be the best of themselves.

Five years ago, I wrote off Russell Packer in this column.

This week, I'd like to say I couldn't be happier that I was proved wrong.