I’ll start with a question: how can you serve a suspension if you’re not able to be picked for a team?
That’s the central issue I take with reports that Paul Vaughan, who signed with Canterbury last week, may be allowed to play for his new club as soon as Round 1 of next season.
Specifically, AAP said: “the Bulldogs can push to have the eight games missed at the end of this season after being axed by the Dragons count towards Vaughan’s ban of the same length.”
Obviously Vaughan has copped a massive punishment for his barbecue, which was the second COVID breach he had committed in the past 12 or so months and, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, was a third off-field offence, which gave the Dragons the ammunition they needed to tear up his contract.
Vaughan’s deal at the Red V for 2022 was rumoured to have been some $800,000, so when added to the $50,000 fine he copped from the NRL and however much he stood to earn over the final rounds of this year, having his teammates around for some beers and snags probably cost the prop more than a million bucks.
Sure, he’ll recoup some of that with his new deal at the Dogs, but this is a huge financial penalty for the former Test prop – it was penance enough and I take no issue with him having a chance to rekindle his career in the NRL.
But he shouldn’t be allowed to pull on a blue and white jumper until Round 9 of next year, because part of his punishment from the NRL was an eight-match suspension and he hasn’t served a single match yet.
Because, as of July 6, he’s not part of the competition. And, again, how can you serve a suspension if you’re not able to be picked for a team?
What’s more, this isn’t me being finicky, it’s seemingly the NRL’s new method of serving punishments for off-field issues.
On June 8 this year, the NRL announced that Kotoni Staggs was being fined $20,000 and would serve a two-match ban after he “engaged in disreputable conduct at a public venue” in April.
The Broncos centre had not featured at all in 2021, having been recovering from a long-term injury, but the release said Staggs “will not be permitted to return to the NRL before Round 16”.
Basically, time spent on the sidelines injured was not to count towards his suspension.
Then last week, after he made his infamous trip out onto a balcony, the NRL announced James Roberts would be fined and miss one game “to commence when he is eligible for selection”.
So even though the Tiger was already missing games due to being in quarantine, that time was immaterial.
It’s a system that’s got its holes – if you’re a club with an off-field problem child who suffers a long-term injury, you’d be inclined to maybe fudge the numbers on their return date just in case – but I’m a fan.
What I don’t understand is being selective with when it is implemented. Why do the Broncos and Tigers lose their guys, but the Bulldogs don’t?
As for the argument Vaughan is doing the time as we speak – he’s not injured or in quarantine – I’d point to the much older yet arguably more similar example of Ben Barba.
Following the Sharks’ 2016 grand final win, their mercurial fullback tested positive for cocaine, which led to him being banned by the NRL for 12 matches, as well as released by his club.
Then on May 24, 2017 – just prior to Round 15 of the English Super League season – Barba signed a deal with St Helens.
However, the Merseyside club were unable to unleash their marquee man upon the competition until the end of August, as Barba had not served any of his 12 matches out – how could he have, when he hadn’t been signed to play in a rugby league competition.
For the record, while he did play rugby union for Toulon in between his time with the Sharks and St Helens, the French club sacked him on May 10, which was after Round 13 of the Super League season, but his ban still did not take effect until he had actually signed with the Saints.
St Helens tried to fight this on the basis that Barba’s off-field issues wouldn’t have led to an actual ban in their competition, but the RFL decided to uphold the suspension, with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting at the time that the NRL was “likely to take a dim view” had they not.
So a misbehaving NRL player can’t serve time while they are injured, nor while they are playing another code, and they have to see out a ban even if they’re playing rugby league on the other side of the world.
Yet apparently we’ll entertain a serial COVID-dodger playing for the Dogs as soon as it’s convenient for them because… why, exactly?
Paul Vaughan is welcome to play in the NRL in 2022 but not until he serves his eight matches.
If Canterbury want to start paying him a wage this week, it’s fair to count the final five rounds of this season and see him suit up in Round 4, 2022.
But since they’re waiting until next year for his contract to take effect, we should not see him play until Round 9 next year.
To round things out, I’ll finish with a question: what are the odds Paul Vaughan is named in Trent Barrett’s side for the opening round of 2022?