More than a dozen St George Illawarra NRL players caught up in a serious Covid-19 breach have issued with more than $300,000 in fines by the league.
The NRL has come down hard on 12 Dragon players and teammate Paul Vaughan after he hosted a barbecue at his Shellharbour home south of Sydney of Saturday night.
The hefty fines are on top of the $1,000 fines issued by NSW Police to the 13 players and Vaughan’s wife Ellie for breaching stay-at-home orders.
Police were called to the home due to a noise complaint and issued fines to everyone there, including Corey Norman, Zac Lomax, Josh McGuire, Jack Bird, Kaide Ellis, Blake Lawrie, Matt Dufty, Daniel Alvaro, Tyrell Fuimaono, Gerard Beale, and Josh Kerr.
Jack De Belin was not initially included on the list of players but it was confirmed by police on Monday that the former NSW State of Origin lock also attended.
Reports have emerged De Belin was hiding under a bed when police entered Vaughan’s home on Saturday night, Fox Sports’ program NRL360 revealed on Monday.
The NRL has issued more than $305,000 in fines while each of the players will cop a match suspensions.
Vaughan and Norman have been slapped with $50,000 fines while De Belin was penalised $42,000.
The 10 other Dragons were fined between $2,000 and $25,000.
Vaughan also copped a eight match ban for withholding information from the NRL Integrity Unit.
The 12 other players were suspended for one game each.
Jack de Belin (pictured with his fiancée Alyce Taylor and two kids) was allegedly hiding under a bed when police attended Paul Vaughan’s Saturday night barbecue. De Belin has since been fined $42,000 by the NRL
Paul Vaughan with his wife Elle were accused of hosting a barbecue with 12 Dragons teammates on Saturday. Vaughan has been fined $50,000 and suspended for eight matches
The suspensions will be staggered out in order to ensure the Dragons can field a side in the coming weeks as they battle to cling to their spot in the top eight.
It’s understood NSW Police are also now investigating whether some of the wives and partners of the Dragons players who attended were also present at the barbecue, which the NRL was unaware, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Neighbours claim a number of men and women were seen ‘scampering’ out a side door and ‘running’ off down the street when police attended Vaughans home.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian criticised the Dragons players, claiming they jeopardised the rest of the state which is trying to get out of lockdown.
But it will be de Belin’s attendance that now raises the most eyebrows.
The 30-year-old is only four games back from missing two-and-a-half years of football as part of the NRL’s no-fault stand-down policy while fighting sexual assault charges.
His case was subsequently dropped after two hung juries, with de Belin able to resume his NRL career.
Questions will now be asked as to why his name was not raised in early investigations and if there was an attempt to cover up his attendance.
Paul Kent revealed on Fox Sports’ NRL 360 on Monday night that De Belin was hiding under a bed when police entered Vaughan’s home.
Pictured: Paul and Elle Vaughan. The NRL star is accused of inviting multiple people to his home while Sydney is in lockdown
The NRL is working on how to sanction the players and playing bans remain an option.
Even if the league’s integrity unit does not sideline the group, there is some chance the club could still come down hard.
They would still have the numbers to field a side in their next match against Manly in round 18, but it would be significantly weakened and will be played just two days after Tariq Sims and Ben Hunt run out in State of Origin 3.
St George Illawarra star Paul Vaughan and his wife Elle have been issued with $1,000 fines after allegedly holding a house party at their Shellharbour home
Dragons players were slammed as ‘selfish and stupid’ by furious NRL officials, but former star player Beau Ryan stood up for the team on Monday morning, claiming they simply ‘made a mistake’.
‘Look, I can see both sides here because the NRL players are in a bubble,’ he told Studio 10’s Angela Bishop.
‘They’re in their own little world, they’re all isolating together, they played a game four hours earlier.’
‘They’re on buses together, they’re on the field together, they’re training. So they’ve gone back to a player’s house and they’ve had a barbecue.’
The NRL’s Covid bubble keeps players under strict lockdown to ensure no one becomes infected and stops games being played.
Ryan said the issue was that prying neighbours likely saw the party and felt frustrated at the players for flouting the rules.
Beau Ryan (pictured with his partner) used to play for the Sharks and the Wests Tigers
All residents of Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Wollongong, Shellharbour and the Central Coast and are banned from visiting friends’ homes until Covid restrictions end on July 9.
While Ryan said the fines were not enough of a punishment, he explained the 14 men are unlikely to be suspended because the NRL only has access to 30 players in the sport’s Covid bubble.
‘If you suspend the players, then they’re at risk of not fielding a team the next week. If they don’t field a team, there’s not enough games and they don’t get the TV rights money,’ he said.
He explained the situation has left NRL officials ‘scratching their heads’ wondering how to penalise properly, and guessed at ‘big financial penalties’ by the NRL.
‘I think the big problem here for the Dragons is they’re going to be deducted points… because they’ve put the whole game at risk.’
Co-host Tristan MacManus (pictured with Angela Bishop) piped up and asked if the situation would have been handled differently if the party had been held in the sports club
But co-host Tristan MacManus piped up and asked if the situation would have been handled differently if the party had been held in the sports club and after Saturday’s game, rather than at Vaughan’s home.
‘Would the club have said ‘sorry guys, we can’t have a party here, because lockdown’?’ he asked.
‘I understand the bubble thing and I can see it from both sides, but I have a kid who couldn’t have their birthday party for the same reasons.
‘There’s too many things that stink of hypocrisy. I don’t have anything against this team but there should be suspensions – the club should be hit hard.’
Ryan said ‘it’s going to happen’, but remained tight-lipped about the comments.
The alleged breach of restrictions sparked separate investigations by police and the NRL’s Integrity Unit.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo warned on Sunday that the players could face ‘significant’ sanctions, which could include missing games and further fines.
‘I’m disappointed, to be honest I’m gutted. We’re all working hard to keep the game going so we expect more from the players,’ he told Fox Sports’ Big League Wrap on Sunday night.
The alleged breach occurred after St George Illawarra came from 12 points behind to beat the New Zealand Warriors in golden point on Friday night (pictured)
‘People make mistakes, sure, but there’s a lot at stake here. We’re going to work around the clock to complete the investigation, finalise it and then we’ll deal with the players hopefully (on Monday).
‘It’s no good having protocols if they’re not going to be adhered to so we’re going to continue working through the night to finalise this matter and deal with it.
‘It’s a small group of players that are impacting a very, very large group of people.’
It is the third NRL breach in the space of a fortnight after five Canterbury players became close contacts of a Covid-19 case when they visited a Bondi pub two weeks ago, resulting in a $50,000 for the club.
Cronulla centre Josh Dugan was also fined $25,000 and sidelined for 14 days for visiting a Sydney restaurant before the city’s lockdown began.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo (right) has expressed his disappointment over the alleged breach and has warned of ‘significant’ sanctions
It’s not the first time Vaughan, 30, has allegedly breached Covid rules.
He was stood down for two weeks and fined $10,000 last year after flouting rules by visiting a café and signing in under a fake name.
He added that the situation would be taken very seriously and that ‘significant sanctions’ would be implemented if the allegations were proven.
‘This is affecting all of us. Many of us are in lockdown, there are businesses taking strain, we’re all very confined and doing the right thing. But this was not doing the right thing. We need to make sure the players understand the consequences.’
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys is also furious the competition has been put in jeopardy, calling the party a ‘selfish act of stupidity’.
‘The players have to understand that if they don’t follow the protocols there will be no game,’ V’landys said.
‘And if there is no game not only does it affect their salary and wages, but also the salary and wages of players in the future.
‘Because it will have a dramatic financial effect on the finances of the game.
‘They have to understand they are playing not only for themselves but their fellow players, future players and all the people who make a living out of rugby league.
‘That is enough of an incentive for them to follow the protocols.’
Former NRL stars also weighed into the debate to express their disappointment.
‘If this is true, this is a huge issue,’ former Cronulla Sharks and NSW Blues captain Paul Gallen told Channel Nine’s Sports Sunday moments after the news of the alleged breach broke.
‘They will be punished severely. I can see something severe happening here. Big, big fines and time out of the game. This is going to be huge.’
Former NRL star Matty Johns said the alleged breach could have serious ramifications for the Dragons season but also the rest of the NRL.
‘The competition is on a knife’s edge and it’s real bad look for people out there following the rules and a lot of people are out of work because of it,’ he told Fox Sports on Sunday.
SYDNEY’S LOCKDOWN: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW UNTIL JULY 9
Those living in Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Shellharbour and Wollongong must abide by the following:
Masks are mandatory in all indoor settings outside the home, including offices
Weddings are banned and funerals are capped at 100 people – or 1 person per 4sqm – with masks required indoors
There is no curfew but a stay at home order applies, with only four reasons to leave your home
*The four reasons you can leave your home:
- Shopping for food or other essential goods and services
- Medical care or compassionate needs (including to get a COVID-19 vaccine)
- Exercise outdoors in groups of 10 or fewer
- Essential work, or education, where you cannot work or study from home
The rest of NSW (including regional areas) is subject to the following restrictions:
- No more than five visitors (including children) allowed in homes
- Masks are compulsory in all indoor non-residential settings
- The four-square-metre rule is back for indoor and outdoor settings and drinking while standing at indoor venues is not allowed
- Dancing will not be allowed at indoor hospitality venues or nightclubs, but dancing is allowed at weddings for the wedding party (no more than 20 people)
- Dance and gym classes are limited to 20 people per class and masks must be worn
When does the lockdown end?
- Stay at home orders apply to Greater Sydney including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour until 11.59pm on Friday, 9 July 2021