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Opinion

What the hell were the Dragons players thinking?

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4th July, 2021
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A group of players get together at a teammate’s house, sink some beers, have a barbie and some laughs, eventually making enough noise as the night rolls on to get neighbours to call the police, who come along and send everyone on their way.

In 2019, this probably barely rates a mention in the gossip column on a Wednesday. But this is 2021 and times are very, very different.

What an idiotic thing this Dragons dozen have done, and of all the times to do it.

NRL Chief Executive Officer Andrew Abdo made a rare public appearance to register his disappointment and say ‘significant sanctions’ are on the table, pending the outcome of an NRL integrity unit investigation.

There’s reports around the place the players are arguing they didn’t know the rules, which just makes this whole thing even stupider.

Obviously they weren’t paying attention when the Bulldogs stood down five players for breaking the rules, resulting in a $50,000 fine for the club, fines for the players and a whopper of a 66-0 belting at the hands of Manly.

And they weren’t paying attention when Cronulla’s Josh Dugan was sprung at a restaurant with mates, resulting in him being tagged with 14 days isolation away from his team and a threatened $25,000 fine to be decided on this week.

And Paul Vaughan – the bloody host of the shindig – obviously wasn’t paying attention last year when he breached the bubble protocols, was stood down for three games while he isolated, and copped a $10,000 fine.

How could they have possibly thought this was a good idea?

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Some are taking early reports there were no members of the public present to mean there’s been no ‘real’ breach of the NRL guidelines, just a minor enough breach of the NSW Government’s lockdown rules.

It doesn’t matter if there’s only NRL players and close partners there, it’s an incredible display of stupidity and a lack of self-awareness.

The New South Wales government’s website states:

“If you are in Greater Sydney, you must comply with the stay at home rules. If you want to visit another person you will need a reasonable excuse to be away from your place of residence.”

I thoroughly checked the government’s list of reasonable excuses to see if ‘getting on the piss with mates’ was there – it was not.

It’s also not on the ‘acceptable list of reasons to enter Greater Sydney including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour’.

The NRL’s own level 4 protocols require players to remain at home unless training, playing or completing an essential household task, and they’re not allowed to have visitors in their homes.

It’s fair enough to argue this was only teammates, who are in their bubble all the time, catching up for a drink and a feed before their bye week, but this overlooks one critical point.

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That critical point is this is a much, much bigger deal than just a breach of state COVID-19 rules.

Even if there was no NRL bubble breach, and at the time of writing, nothing has been confirmed to that effect, just look at the reaction of the NRL administration.

They’ve been busting their arses to get plans and travel arrangements approved by state governments who are increasingly trigger-happy about shutting borders or requiring quarantine on arrival.

Then they get the news of this breathtaking stupidity.

Like it or not, shutting borders or enforcing restrictions to keep dirty interstaters out or having them quarantine has been an election-winning strategy in Australia and it continues to be met with support, particularly in Queensland.

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So politicians won’t need a second invitation to make an example of the NRL, traditionally looked down upon by those who think they know better.

Something like this could make these discussions between the NRL and their stakeholders incredibly difficult. It puts the game at a disadvantage

There’s also money on the line for the players, who will have a slightly less sturdy position to negotiate with the NRL when player payment negotiations come around next year.

So it’s not as simple as boys being boys and the police’s $1,000 fine being the end of the matter.

Paul Vaughan

Paul Vaughan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Having said all that, I don’t buy into the whole ‘NRL season in crisis’ being pushed around. I’m confident this moronic act won’t be the death knell for the season.

But swap that for ‘Dragons’ season in crisis’ and I’ll agree without hesitation.

If isolation is required, that’s a dozen players off the list for their next game against a rampant Manly, who can do serious damage to St George’s points differential in the run to the finals.

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If the NRL decides to put a stake in the ground and hand out suspensions, which is entirely on the table, who knows where the Dragons’ 2021 will end up.

If I’m a St George Illawarra administrator, I’d also love to hear from Paul Vaughan as to why he thinks he’s worth keeping around the place if this is how he’s going to conduct himself.

People don’t like being locked down. They’re sick of it. They’ve spent the better part of two years dealing with this and they’ve had enough.

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They don’t like thinking other people are getting special treatment and they don’t understand how strict the NRL’s COVID-19 protocols are.

Something like this being front and centre of all the local press will again unfairly soil the reputation of the NRL player group.

Us rugby league fans get pretty annoyed when fans of other sports take cheap shots about the off-field exploits of NRL players.

But bloody hell, they can make it tough to defend them.

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