The CEO of the Warriors' major sponsor could be facing a massive defamation payout after being slammed for accusing NRL officials of "cheating of the highest order". Jason Paris, CEO of telco One NZ, ultimately backtracked on his initial comments after going on a social media rampage during the Warriors' 18-6 loss to Penrith in Magic Round.
Paris had initially accused referee Todd Smith and the Bunker of conspiring against his club and insinuated in a series of posts on social media that NRL referees were betting money against the Kiwi side after seeing them reduced them to 12 players on more than one occasion. He questioned the integrity of the whistleblowers and the Bunker after a number of calls that went against the New Zealand side.
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The Warriors were perplexed by the referee's decision to overlook a possible high tackle on captain Tohu Harris from Panthers enforcer Moses Leota. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was also sent for a head injury assessment after being glanced in the face by a Tyrone Peachey swipe that went unpunished. Adding to their frustrations was the fact the Warriors also had rookie Demitric Sifakula (striking) and Jackson Ford (hip-drop tackle) sent to the sin bin.
On Monday, Paris backtracked on his wild cheating claims but maintained the Warriors were frequently on the wrong side of decisions by the league's officials and suggested an unconscious bias existed when it came to officiating their games. "I don't think that the NRL refs are cheats, no one comes onto the field to do that," Paris told SEN NZ.
"But you can't argue with some of these inconsistencies against the Warriors and it happens every single week. It is so frustrating when the team is performing better than they have for quite some time that the momentum is being stopped in games because, I think, of unfair or inconsistent decisions."
The Daily Telegraph reported that Paris could be facing a defamation payout of to $1 million, according to Sydney lawyer Paul McGirr. Professional Rugby League Match Officials boss Matt Cecchin also revealed that his organisation had sought legal advice in the wake of Paris' comments.
“Any sort of mention of the word bias, be it conscious or unconscious, is just unacceptable. It hurts our game at every level,” Cecchin told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We feel strong enough to seek legal opinion and based on the information we’ll pursue whatever means necessary to ensure that it’s seen as a deterrent for anyone who thinks about making any such comments around bias.”
NRL lashes claims from Warriors sponsor
Responding to the drama in his weekly address, NRL football boss Graham Annesley lashed Paris over the accusations of bias against his referees. "I'll be measured as much as a I can; I'm a bit hot under the collar over this stuff," he said. "There is no comment that could be worse.
"The referees work very, very hard to do their best, not just at the NRL level but kids at the park on the weekend. The nature of the game is that there will be disagreement about the decisions that they make.
"We can question their decision making, but we can't question their integrity. It questions the integrity of the entire NRL administration because we appoint these people."
Annesley rubbished suggestions there was an unconscious bias against the Warriors or any other side. "I can go to eight losing clubs on any given week and they'll all tell me they didn't get the rub of the green," he added. This is not something that's peculiar to a team in New Zealand."
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo confirmed an investigation was underway after labelling Paris' remarks "completely unacceptable". Warriors officials will meet with league bosses this week to review the decisions in question but it's understood the NRL is uncertain how to proceed with any penalty, due to the fact Paris is a major sponsor and not a member of the Warriors' staff.
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