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Opinion

Why are the NRL bending over backwards to accommodate the Dragons?

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12th July, 2021
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This afternoon the Dragons will name their side to play Manly on Friday, with a distinct possibility they will field a near full-strength team.

At this stage, it appears they will only be unable to play Zac Lomax and Daniel Alvaro, with the former having missed the club’s last game anyway, against the Warriors.

Since that golden-point victory over the Kiwi club, the Red V have been turned upside down due to the sheer stupidity of 13 of their players.

We don’t need a rehash of everything that has transpired since the ‘Dirty Dozen’ got together for beers at Paul Vaughan’s place.

But does it not seem completely nuts that after they put the entire competition at risk, to say nothing of the goodwill they torched in the broader community, Anthony Griffin could name a full-strength side in his team’s very next game?

And the only thing that is stopping him from having Lomax and Alvaro in the side is the pair’s refusal to sign a piece of paper that states there was no one from outside the club’s bubble at Vaughan’s BBQ.

It’s mind-boggling how hard the NRL has worked to make this as easy as possible for St George Illawarra.

The Monday after the party came to light, the NRL were made to look big and scary as they put out a media release with the headline: “St George Illawarra Dragons players fined $305,000 and given match suspensions”.

It sounds massive. But the reality was the club getting whacked with a lettuce leaf.

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Of the $305,000, 100 grand came out of the pockets of serial offenders Paul Vaughan and Corey Norman, so the average fine was really a bit more than 18K apiece.

It’s not nothing, but it’s less than, say, Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr got a year ago, when they were the first-ever players to be fined for breaching Covid protocols.

As for the 20 weeks’ worth of suspensions, eight of them went Vaughan’s way so the reality is each player missing one week.

Yet in the media release, the NRL allege “that a number of players gave or were involved in giving misleading information about the event during the NRL’s investigation into the breaches and that some of the players conspired to withhold key information from the NRL.”

So a bunch of guys who were being investigated for breaking the law also lied to the NRL? Sounds an awful lot like what Nathan Cleary did last year, which saw him fined $30,000 and handed a two-match suspension.

Of course, the reality was that the Dragons players would end up missing two games since all players would have to self-isolate for 14 days because they breached the bubble.

But no, the NRL decided that they would allow the players to return to the club bubble as long as they all signed a statutory declaration saying that there was no one else from outside the bubble at Vaughan’s party – and it was to be one-in, all-in, if so much as one person didn’t sign the statement, they would all be out.

Except the players didn’t want to sign stat decs. So that part was changed and instead they’ve signed a non-legally binding piece of paper.

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Guys who were thought to have lied and misled an investigation were told to sign a piece of paper that has no legal weight and we’re trusting them?

Then Lomax and Alvaro refused to even sign the piece of bog roll, at which point it was apparently decided that the one-in, all-in idea was a bit much so the ten who did sign the nothing statement have been permitted back in the bubble.

How about their statement doesn’t mean anything? It’s been acknowledged Paul Vaughan’s wife was at the party and she’s not in the bubble.

Basically, here’s the sworn statement:

I, a person who previously lied about the events that took place at Paul Vaughan’s place, swear that no one from outside the bubble was also at the party, except that one person who isn’t in the bubble, and you can trust I’m telling the truth because this statement is not legally binding.
Go f**k yourself, hahahahaha!
Dragons Player X

The kicker, as Nathan Brown pointed out on the weekend, is that people who have innocently broken the bubble such as Euan Aitken and Josh Curran get the two-week self-isolation.

“I don’t get how you do the right thing and you get two weeks, do the wrong thing you get one. It doesn’t add up to me,” the Warriors coach said.

It doesn’t add up to me either, Browny.

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The Dragons players should have got fines that averaged far more, because that’s what Latrell and the Foxx got, they should have been given two-week suspensions for lying to the NRL, because that’s what Cleary got, and they should have been in self-isolation for two weeks after bursting the bubble, because that’s what Aitken and Curran got.

Instead, the club will be allowed to massage their squad over the next month, not unlike a team that have already secured the minor premiership and therefore are resting players in dribs and drabs ahead of the finals.

Josh McGuire of the Dragons

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

And, again, in the game that immediately follows the largest breach of COVID protocols in Australian sport’s (admittedly relatively short) history, the club can technically name almost the exact same team as that which played the day before this all went down.

Of course, it’s doubtful they will – the Sea Eagles game is one St George Illawarra would have probably lost regardless. So if they’re smart, they’ll cop half their medicine this weekend, then take the rest of the licks for their match against Souths (another game they would struggle to win regardless of the circumstances).

Then they can have full-strength sides go toe-to-toe with the Titans and Raiders, and at the end of a month when every side in NSW has been forced to relocate to Queensland because COVID is really making life a bitch, a club that had almost half their first-grade squad wilfully break the law and lie about it could comfortably be sitting in finals contention.

The St George Illawarra Dragons’ season should have effectively been ended. It’s not fair on the club’s supporters and sponsors, to say nothing of the guys who did the right thing, but when 13 of your players make a decision like this, you really have no business featuring in the play-off conversation.

There’s a chance that will be the case anyway, as you have to wonder what squad harmony is going to be like in the wash-up, but it should be a given.

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