A pub lunch attended by 10 Brisbane players last month is the latest biosecurity breach being investigated that could throw the NRL season into further chaos, while Tevita Pangai Jnr has been fined $30,000 and excluded from the NRL’s bubble by the league for a separate Covid-19 breach.
Queensland police and the NRL are looking into the incident, in which 10 players enjoyed a pub steak on 1 August at the Everton Park Hotel in potential breach of the league’s strict coronavirus protocols.
It follows a breach on Saturday by forward Pangai Jnr and another that saw Brisbane great and current trainer Allan Langer among three staff stood down after attending a private function at the Caxton Hotel.
The Broncos said on Wednesday the group of 10 players lunched with the understanding they were not breaking protocols under what were relaxed Project Apollo rules at the time.
Rules allow players in Queensland teams when they have not played a Sydney team in the last 14 days to dine at cafes and restaurants, but not attend pubs. However, restaurants within pubs are permissible, as long as they remain within that area and seated at a table with their own group.
The club said the players in question had gathered to mark the end of their 14-day hard lock down following a 48-0 mauling against West Tigers on 17 July.
“The players were of the understanding that lunch at the hotel was permissible under the more-relaxed restrictions which they were under at the time,” the statement read. “The club has been working closely with the NRL and provided a range of information as requested, and is awaiting a determination.”
It comes as six Hull FC players as well as two coaches have tested positive for coronavirus in England, while their most recent opposition Salford are awaiting their test results. Both clubs have cancelled training with the positive group in quarantine for 10 days, with the RFL to reschedule upcoming Super League and Challenge Cup fixtures.
The governing body is also analysing their game on Sunday to determine how many players from each team will also be required to self-isolate under the test-and-trace procedures.
Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson says Super League cases show just how important the NRL guidelines are to keep the competition running, with Super League proceeding without any kind of “bubble”.
“The protocols are really harsh, really tough at times on the group of players and staff, they’re really restrictive but we have to adhere to them to keep playing,” Robinson said. “Whilst you don’t always agree with them you have to stick to them.
“We need to finish this competition financially for players, staff and everybody who works in the office. We need to continue to play so the restrictive nature of the protocols for 50 people for the next three months, we have to do it.”
Pangai Jnr’s $650,000 a season contract at Red Hill hangs in the balance after the breach notice was issued on Wednesday, kicking him out of the NRL’s bubble “until such time that he can satisfy the NRL that he will comply with all biosecurity protocols”.
“We believe this was a case of a player committing multiple contraventions of the protocols and showing a disregard for the league’s rules,’’ acting NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said in proposing the punishment.
“We will do everything we can to protect our season. Players or officials who show they are unable to comply with the biosecurity protocols will be removed from club bubbles until we are satisfied that they will comply with the protocols. We believe in this case, Tevita has not been able to do that. This decision protects the health of our playing squads and most importantly the general community.”
The forward is facing the sack from the Broncos with more than two years remaining on his contract, with Saturday’s biosecurity breach at a barber shop potentially the final straw.
His ill discipline has been a thorn for the club for more than a year, during which time he has spent 12 weeks out because of suspensions. Earlier this season he was given his fourth suspension of the past year and spent a month on the sidelines for a dangerous tackle.
Friday’s 28-10 loss to South Sydney looks set to be his final NRL game of the season given the 3 August deadline for clubs to finalise their rosters has passed.
It is a huge call for the Broncos considering they are in the midst of their worst NRL season and recently lost a bid to keep star forward David Fifita at the club beyond the end of the year.