Veteran NRL journo Paul Kent says the Brisbane Broncos’ latest virus drama is “as serious as it gets” and puts the league’s multi-million dollar broadcast deal in grave danger.
Brisbane are declaring their innocence after a pub lunch attended by 10 players intended to celebrate the end of harder lockdown measures became the latest biosecurity breach under investigation at the embattled NRL club.
Queensland police and the NRL are looking into the incident, in which 10 players enjoyed a steak on August 1 at the Everton Park Hotel in potential breach of the league’s strict coronavirus protocols.
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A number of reports claim the players weren’t just having lunch but were also drinking and playing the pokies, which would be a breach.
Daily Telegraph reporter Dave Riccio told NRL Tonight: “It is my understanding that certainly it was against the protocols and they are facing a hefty fine, despite it occurring two weeks ago.”
It follows a separate COVID-19 breach on Saturday by Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Jr that prompted the NRL to propose a $30,000 fine and indefinitely boot him from the NRL's bubble.
Brisbane great and current trainer Allan Langer is among three staff stood down after attending another private function at the Caxton Hotel.
Broncos situation ‘as serious as it gets’
Kent told NRL 360 on Wednesday night the Broncos’ latest incident: “Is as serious as it gets, from the point of view that the NRL’s playing future is beginning to teeter.
“This is not a violation of state laws, it’s a violation of the NRL’s agreement with the Queensland government … The NRL gave an undertaking that all 16 clubs would follow these protocols, and the Broncos have broken it.”
Kent said the misbehaving players have put the NRL’s broadcast deal with Channel Nine in jeopardy.
“Peter V’landys gave Channel Nine an undertaking that they would have strict biosecurity protocols around them, and the players in the past week – and the coaches – have started to blow it,” he said.
“If the broadcast deal comes crumbling down because the competition gets suspended … they (NRL) won’t earn their money. And next year when they renegotiate that deal, according to Peter V’landys in my conversation with him today, it will be a fraction of what they are earning.
“This is what they’re putting at stake by doing what they’re doing. You can complain it’s harsh and unfair, but our livelihoods aren’t at stake about staying home.
“These players have a clear correlation between staying home and doing the right thing, and earning money. It’s as simple as that.”
Riccio expressed similar sentiments, saying: “What is happening here as we’ve seen yet another breach by players, is they’re only putting themselves at risk.
“It is their livelihood and their income that they’re risking. Because if the competition stops it’s upwards of a $200 million black hole for the NRL. And that will only impact the players’ financial future going forward due to the competition needing to be stopped.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has already warned the league that the health of Queenslanders will come before the NRL season.
Another NRL Covid breach: Up to 10 Broncos ate and drank at a Brisbane Hotel earlier this month. 7NEWS can reveal the investigation centres on the pub's pokie room. https://t.co/Xx5h2oU5Mx @ElliottChipper #NRL #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/pyetMnzA8c— 7NEWS Brisbane (@7NewsBrisbane) August 12, 2020
Broncos defend players amid police investigation
The Broncos said on Wednesday the group lunched with the understanding they were not breaking protocols under what were relaxed Project Apollo rules at the time.
They had gathered to mark the end of their 14-day hard lockdown following a 48-0 mauling against Wests Tigers in Sydney on July 17.
Rules allowed players in Queensland teams, when they haven't played in Sydney in the past 14 days, to dine at cafes and restaurants, but not attend pubs.
However, restaurants within pubs were okayed, as long as players remain within that area and seated at a table with their own group.
“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 Broncos statement read.
“The club has been working closely with the NRL and provided a range of information as requested, and is awaiting a determination.”
Queensland Police deputy commissioner Steve Gollschewski confirmed on Wednesday that investigations into the Broncos’ pub visit were continuing.
But he said it would fall back onto Queensland Health to determine if the players had broken any protocols specific to the NRL bubble.