21 February 2023

John Papalii jailed for assault that left teammate unconscious

| Albert McKnight
Coat of Arms on court building

John Jerome Papalii, 29, has been jailed for a common assault. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A man previously convicted for two robberies has been sent to jail for knocking a friend and teammate to the ground, leaving him unconscious, after an early morning disagreement in a nightclub.

John Jerome Papalii, the younger brother of rugby league star Josh Papalii, and the teammate could be seen slowly walking towards each other on the street outside Fiction, in Canberra’s centre, at around 5 am on 21 August 2022, closed-circuit television footage shows.

John quickly struck the other man in the face, who fell to the ground and didn’t get up for the remainder of the footage.

Many others were also walking along the street at the time and police officers were on the scene in seconds.

“Nothing good ever happens after about one o’clock in the morning,” Special Magistrate Sean Richter told the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday (20 February).

He said police had been on the street in large numbers as they expected trouble and he told John directly, “You were the trouble”.

The footage was “shocking to watch”, John’s lawyer Tiffany Wilken of Healey Criminal Law admitted, but she said the incident had started with a verbal argument between the pair inside the nightclub before they agreed to meet up outside.

READ ALSO ‘Like a horror movie’: Wajid Kakar allegedly killed housemate, slashed two others with a meat cleaver and knife

However, Special Magistrate Richter described it as “an unprovoked piece of violence”, no matter what was said inside the club.

Ms Wilken said there was no evidence of ongoing harm to the teammate, and her client, a father-of-one whose heavily pregnant partner meant he had a second child “due any minute”, had acknowledged the devastating consequences of his actions.

She argued the assault “served as a turning point” for him, but the special magistrate said he was “more than a little sceptical” about this submission.

In 2015, the Supreme Court handed John a five-year-and-three-month jail sentence that was suspended for a good behaviour order, sparing him any more time behind bars for two robberies.

“To most people, and most offenders, that would have been a very large wake-up call, but in your case, that doesn’t seem to have done the trick,” Special Magistrate Richter told him.

He told John that the higher court had already given him a major chance to turn his life around “and you have not done it”.

“I expect when you’re sober, you’re a really nice bloke, but when you drink, your anger overcomes you,” he said.

READ ALSO ‘Bad neighbours’ not reason enough to set door on fire, court told

John had pleaded guilty to a charge of common assault.

The 29-year-old from Belconnen was given a three-month jail sentence to be suspended after serving one month, followed by a two-year good behaviour order.

He was hugged and given words of encouragement by his family and supporters before being led away by custody officers.

John was recruited to play for the Canberra Raiders while still at school, then completed a two-year contract and was given a second one-year contract before he was sacked.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.