Dragons halfback Benji Marshall says controversial prop Russell Packer should be allowed to stay in Australia and play for the Dragons because of how far he's come in turning his life around compared to when he was sent to jail for assault.
Marshall – who knew Packer before the November 2013 assault which eventually led to him spending 12 months behind bars and now threatens to see him deported to his native New Zealand – bluntly labelled the now-26-year-old as not a great person prior to the incident.
Marshall recently threw his support behind Packer's bid to stay in the country in a social media post and the sentiment has since gained traction with other players.
"I knew him before and I wasn't a fan of his personality and the way he acted and I know him now and he's a completely different person," Marshall said at a Dragons pre-season golf day on Friday.
"That's the reason I stuck up for him, not only as a teammate but because I've seen his character change."
Marshall said it would be sad to see someone deported after having served their time and being rehabilitated.
"That's what we have a justice system for. He did his time in jail where he spent 12 months [in] prison. I knew Russell before he came to the Dragons and before that incident and he wasn't a great person.
"I know him now and after serving his time in prison I think he's come to the realisation he needs to be a better person, and even more than that, he wants to be a better father and better husband and I've seen those changes."
Packer has spent time working with children with disabilities in the Wollongong area, given up alcohol and taken self-improvement courses since being released from jail.
"There's a lot of things he's had to change in his lifestyle and I think it's all contributed [to his improvement].
"The biggest thing I've noticed is I think it's about his kids and his family and he wants to be a better person for them. He's even said it to me, it's not about proving it to us it's about proving it to his family. That's probably the biggest driving factor for him."
Marshall said Packer didn't need to prove anything to his new teammates, rather he needed to show his family he could be the father and husband they need.
"It's about proving it to his family and to himself that he can be a better person and from my point of view I don't condone anything of that violence, what he did in the past, it's not something that I'm a fan of but he served his time in jail. If he does get deported he's going to go back a much better person anyway and if he does stay with us I can tell you right now he's a way better person."
Young Dragons centre Euan Aitken – who did not know Packer before the incident – could only judge the New Zealand international on what he had shown in his time at the Red V and on that basis the whole squad would love him to stay.
"He's been outstanding, he's taken a few of the under-20s boys under his wing and shown them how hard you have to train to be an NRL player," Aitken told NRL.com.
"It's good to see that leadership from him, I know he's a changed man and he's a pleasure to have around the camp. He knows when to have a laugh and when to be serious. I'm all for him being here and he's shown a good leadership role which is good to see.
"He's going to be a big plus for our team, he's fit, he's strong, he's been training the house down... it's not going to be a problem for us and all the boys are rallying around him because we know the type of dude he is. I didn't know him before but if this is the dude we're going to have around camp of course we want him to stay."