Hurdles to Packer’s redemption with Knights


OFFERS: Russell Packer.

THE Newcastle Knights find themselves in a no-win situation with regards to Russell Packer – damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Before Packer can seriously consider the possibility of an NRL comeback, he must negotiate two significant obstacles .

First, once he has been released from jail, he will need to avoid being deported to his native New Zealand and having his visa cancelled.

Should he receive the necessary clearance from the Department of Immigration, Packer’s next battle will be to convince NRL officials that he is a fit and proper person to be a registered player.

The NRL was noncommittal on that subject this week, saying only: ‘‘If a contract is lodged with the NRL, it will be considered on its merits.’’

But given Parramatta back-rower Manu Ma’u and Warriors prop Suaia Matagi played in the NRL this season, having been jailed for assault in their teenage years, there would appear to be precedents.

Former Knights prop Danny Wicks has also been cleared to join the Eels next season, five years after the drugs-related arrest that led to him spending 18 months behind bars.

Whether Packer is eligible to play in 2015 is another matter altogether, because the NRL may consider it premature to register him so soon.

But interested parties, in particular Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett, already have been vocal in stating that any further sanction would be ‘‘overkill’’ and Packer should be allowed to resume his career ASAP.

Bennett has made no secret of his desire to take Packer to the Broncos, but it is understood Penrith are the clear favourites.

Packer was coached by Ivan Cleary during his formative years with the Warriors, alongside former teammates such as Lewis Brown and Elijah Taylor, also now at the Panthers.

But perhaps the real surprise was that, behind the scenes, Knights officials have stayed in contact with Packer and incoming coach Rick Stone is open to the possibility of signing him.

After the turmoil caused when he was jailed in January, within weeks of moving to Newcastle to start a four-year deal, many would say the Knights should wash their hands of Packer and stand by their decision to sack him.

After all, he dragged the club’s name through the mud before he had even pulled on the red-and-blue jersey.

To consider re-employing a man convicted of an assault labelled ‘‘cowardly and deplorable’’ by the presiding magistrate would be an open invitation for criticism.

From a public-relations viewpoint, offering Packer a second chance would never meet with unanimous approval. A backlash of discontent would appear inevitable.

But, on the flip side, there is potentially a positive outcome to this harrowing tale.

Redemption and rehabilitation are noble concepts.

If Packer was able to resurrect his career, and become an example for other troubled youngsters, it would be understandable that Knights officials were interested in allowing him to do that in Newcastle.

Packer, his young family and his victim are not the only ones to have suffered in this affair.

The Knights not only lost their major signing for 2014, leaving them with a depleted front-row rotation, but the club’s reputation was trashed.

If a rival outfit was now allowed to sign Packer and claim the credit for transforming him into an asset on and off the field, then it would merely add to Newcastle’s angst.

There is only one tangible way Packer could ever repair the damage he inflicted on the Knights. And that would be to rejoin them, become a law-abiding member of the community and atone for the biggest mistake of his life.

The more likely scenario is that he will link with Penrith.

If he then realises his potential as a player and turns his life around, it is a win for both Packer and the Panthers.

The only losers in that situation are the Knights, through no fault of their own.