St George Illawarra hit with mammoth sanctions over bubble breach

Sidelined: Paul Vaughan has been hit hard by the NRL over Saturday's bubble breach. Picture: Ashley Feder/Getty Images
Sidelined: Paul Vaughan has been hit hard by the NRL over Saturday's bubble breach. Picture: Ashley Feder/Getty Images

The St George Illawarra Dragons have been spared the embarrassment of forfeiting a match after the NRL came down hard on the club following a gathering at Paul Vaughan's house on Saturday.

Thirteen players attended the party that breached both NSW public health orders and the NRL's level four biosecurity restrictions.

The footballers have been handed $1000 fines by the police, with the code's governing body not holding back in distributing a combined $305,000 in fines and 20 weeks of suspensions.

Party host Vaughan was hit the hardest by the governing body, the forward handed an eight-game ban and ordered to cough up $50,000.

The former Origin forward has a contract for 2022, however whispers have emerged in recent weeks the club is looking to move Vaughan on. The Dragons have denied the rumours.

The other 12 players involved have each been suspended for one match, the NRL allowing St George Illawarra to spread the bans over a two-to-four week period.

In doing so, the league has ensured the Dragons will be able to field a team against Manly next Friday night.

Like Vaughan, Corey Norman has been slapped with a $50,000 fine, while Jack de Belin will hand over $42,000.

The former NSW Origin forward initially escaped the attention of police, however he was handed a Penalty Infringement Notice on Monday after it emerged he was also at the party.

Also receiving fines and one-game suspensions are Blake Lawrie, Daniel Alvaro, Jack Bird, Josh Kerr, Josh McGuire, Kaide Ellis, Matt Dufty, Tyrell Fuimaono and Gerard Beale.

The value of the fines varied based on the player's behavioural record and current salary.

The NRL's punishment also incorporated allegations players were not originally forthcoming when interviewed by the Integrity Unit.

In a statement, St George Illawarra chief executive Ryan Webb expressed his anger over the behaviour of the footballers and revealed they may face further sanctions from the club.

"The 13 players' arrogance and ignorance to both the NRL biosecurity protocols and the state government's public health order is upsetting and infuriating," Webb said.

"Every member of the club's Apollo register were communicated their responsibilities and limitations under level four protocols on numerous occasions.

"All 13 players have let the rest of their teammates, the entirety of our hard-working staff, their families, the wider community and most importantly our Red V members, partners and fans down.

"The entire club and our stakeholders will now be punished as a result of the combined 20-week suspension procured between the 13 players.

"The Dragons hold no reservations over the punishments handed down by the NRL Integrity Unit or NSW Police given the players' complete disregard for both the game and community's expectations."

The NRL was provided some flexibility in adjudicating punishments by the fact no person from outside the Dragons bubble attended the gathering.

Had that been the case, the players would have likely been forced into 14 days of isolation in order to appease state governments currently enforcing border restrictions.

Given exemptions are required to enable the competition to continue, breaches of this sort have the potential to put the season in doubt.

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo was disappointed with the actions of the players and hopes the punishments send a warning to all clubs that this behaviour will not be tolerated.

"In our view the actions of the players were deliberate and some of the players withheld key information from the Integrity Unit,'' Abdo said.

"On the information we have, the players understood the protocols and deliberately chose to ignore them, they chose to risk the continuity of our competition.

"The sanctions handed down today puts every player in the game on notice, particularly repeat offenders - this sort of conduct will not be tolerated."

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