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The battle continues

New Zealand Herald
Monday, December 04, 2017

A lawyer acting on behalf of the Tongan rugby league team has raised doubts about referee Matt Cecchin's mental health history, in the wake of Tonga's controversial World Cup semi-final loss to England last week.

The Tongan lawyer who filed a personal expression of concern about the circumstances of the decision said that Cecchin's previous issues with anxiety and mental health should have been taken into account by the tournament organisers and the Rugby League International Federation.

In his six page submission to RLIF, Auckland-based lawyer Nalesoni Tupou asked if Cecchin was "fit and proper" to participate in the tournament."My question to you —— knowing that the referee has had mental health issues in the past —— should there not be a medical certificate to confirm the referee was fit and proper to participate as a referee in this tournament," said Tupou, in his statement to the RLIF.

"If this issue was not addressed by your organisation before he officiated this game, then I say again that I want to express my concern for lack or not addressing this mental health issue before the game.

"In other words, please advise of your progress for conducting a review of the health issues of the referee about his ability or inability on mental health grounds."

Cecchin is the most experienced referee in the NRL, and recognised as one of the past. But he admitted this year to having mental health issues in the past, including a panic attack before an NRL match in 2016, and was announced as one of the NRL's state of mind ambassadors earlier this year. Cecchin's failure to allow technology to be used, especially given the significance of the match, sparked widespread protests throughout Auckland, as well as an online petition signed by tens of thousands.

Barristers Kahungunu Barron-Afeaki S.C. and Tupou, who had taken the initiative to act in an advisory role to Tonga Rugby League, had considered filing an injunction against the staging of the World Cup final on Saturday but have now decided not to go down that path.

"There will be no more actions in that area," said Barron-Afeaki. "We considered all options, and it would have been a test case, as such High Court injunctions of that nature haven't been tried before in sport. But in the end the timeframes made it too difficult...and now we would prefer to look forward."

Casting ahead, Barron-Afeaki said that the Tongan Rugby League wants a "redemption" clash —— or series - with England added to next year's international calendar.

"We want to make it happen and we think it can," said Barron-Afeaki. "If it's done right this game could be as big as State of Origin. It will be about redemption for Tonga and should attract massive interest."

There are obvious logistical challenges, but Barron-Afeaki said Tongan officials hope the match could be played in England preceding the Kiwis tour in November next year.

"You could clip it on to that tour," said Barron-Afeaki. "That's the obvious way to do it."

Barron-Afeaki said the Tonga Rugby League will be making formal approaches to the Rugby League International Federation over the next few days

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