Broncos cop huge sanctions for pub saga
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo has thrown the book at the Broncos, whacking the club with a $75,000 fine and issuing a separate batch of financial sanctions to Brisbane players for their role in the pub-bonding saga.
While the Broncos were cleared by Queensland police of breaching the state's health protocols, they were ruled to have broken the NRL's strict COVID guidelines which ban players attending pubs and clubs.
After a thorough investigation by the NRL integrity unit, the Broncos were found to have breached the guidelines with their pub visit to the Everton Park Hotel with 10 players fined five per cent of their salaries.
The group includes Jake Turpin, Kotoni Staggs, Ethan Bullemor, David Fifita, Corey Paix, Josh James, Tyson Gamble, Keenan Palasia, Sean O'Sullivan and Corey Oates.
The club's three development players at the venue had a portion of their fines suspended.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys vowed there would be a genuine probe into the affair and the NRL has acted decisively following previous COVID breaches by Wayne Bennett and Paul Vaughan.
The Storm were fined more than $1 million for their salary-cap breaches in 2010 but the stance taken by the NRL on the Broncos is proof they will act strongly on COVID breaches.
It is yet another bodyblow for the crisis-stricken Broncos, who have endured a horror campaign under coach Anthony Seibold and are now reeling from the biggest fine in their 32-year history.
"We have taken our time to thoroughly investigate this matter so we could gather as much evidence as possible to determine exactly what happened at the venue,'' NRL CEO Abdo said.
"It is our view that this breach involved a significant failure of the club to properly administer the League's biosecurity protocols."
At the time of the breaches Broncos players were permitted to dine at restaurants and cafes but were not permitted to sit in pubs and gaming areas.
It is understood CCTV footage showed some of the group drinking alcohol and playing poker machines in a bar area they are not allowed to frequent under NRL COVID rules.
Broncos CEO Paul White said the club accepted the penalty and had co-operated fully with the NRL integrity unit since an investigation began into a group of players attending the Hotel on Saturday, August 1.
White said the visit to the Everton Park Hotel was not approved by the club, nor were Broncos officials aware it was taking place.
"We accept the imposition of the $75,000 fine, as the club has ultimate accountability for the actions of our players," White said.
"The players will also pay a price in terms of individual sanctions totalling $65,000.
"It is an expensive lesson for us all, but it reinforces how important these protocols are to the survival of our competition and community health."
Abdo said the players would face significant financial penalties.
"There are two aspects to every biosecurity breach," he said.
"Firstly, a biosecurity assessment is carried out by our experts to determine the risk of infection to other players and the general community.
"In this case it was determined that the risk was negligible given the conduct of the players, the timing of disclosure and the lack of community transmission in Brisbane.
"As such, the advice from our experts was that there was no need for players to be placed on a "COVID Hold".
"In other cases, players and officials who breached protocols in or around hotspots in NSW were placed on a 14-day "COVID Hold" because infection rates in those regions are much higher.
"Those decisions were based on a biosecurity risk assessment, not an NRL suspension.
"The biosecurity assessment of each contravention of the League's protocols will often give rise to different outcomes based on the specific facts of each contravention.
"Today's sanctions send another clear message to all players, officials and clubs that breaching protocols will not be tolerated."
The NRL thanked Queensland Police and Queensland Health for their assistance during the investigation.