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Referee Todd Smith talks to Tohu Harris and Demitric Sifakula of the Warriors during the loss to the Panthers (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Referee Todd Smith talks to Tohu Harris and Demitric Sifakula of the Warriors during the loss to the Panthers (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

OPINIONSportsMay 9, 2023

What can the NRL actually do about Jason Paris’s tweets?

Referee Todd Smith talks to Tohu Harris and Demitric Sifakula of the Warriors during the loss to the Panthers (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Referee Todd Smith talks to Tohu Harris and Demitric Sifakula of the Warriors during the loss to the Panthers (Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The One NZ CEO’s rage tweets against the NRL officials might be the smartest piece of politicking anybody involved with the Warriors has done for years.

This is an excerpt from The Bounce, a Substack newsletter by Dylan Cleaver.

The intimate connection between One NZ CEO Jason Paris and the NZ Warriors makes his tweets at the weekend impossible for the NRL to ignore. Yet what can they actually do about a sponsor going off his nut about the refs?

The NRL will be well aware that the connection between One NZ, formerly Vodafone, and the Warriors is one of the strongest and most enduring partnerships in the sport.

On this occasion money was talking, or tweeting. That tends to make people in high places listen, especially when they double down, albeit in more diplomatic tones, as Paris did in a radio interview.

“I would use this as an opportunity to have not a belief-based discussion but a data-driven discussion,” Paris told AM yesterday.

“Look at the video footage over the last three weeks, over the last three years. Compare the exact same instances that are happening in Warriors games compared to other teams that are competing against them, or in other matches, and you will see inconsistencies.

“Take all this conversation and belief out of it and look at the facts. If the facts are showing the Warriors are getting a fair go – then I’ll shut up.”

It’s not a bad idea, but referees’ boss Graham Annesley has already demonstrated the shortcomings of such an approach when he essentially said he can make a case for any decision to be right.

Professional Rugby League Match Officials’ boss Matt Cecchin demonstrated he had spent no quality time in New Zealand when he said “the comments made by this person don’t reflect 99 percent of people that know anything about, or follow rugby league”.

Despite the fact that as New Zealanders we tend to exist in a Warriors echo chamber, there seems to be a persuasive argument that NRL refs are unconsciously biased not so much against the Warriors but towards big, successful, high-profile teams.

Whatever the case, by virtue of his position, Paris has struck a chord few others have managed. For once, the Warriors’ complaints have not been met with a shoulder shrug and silence.

Instead, the NRL’s response has been to rage right back.

“There is no comment that could be worse than the type of comment we’ve seen over the last 24 hours in relation to the integrity of the game,” Annesley said. But when calmer heads prevail, the organisation might see that a review is not such a bad idea – because at the moment there are more headlines about the men controlling the game than there are about the game’s stars.

Keep going!