St George Illawarra player Jack de Belin hid underneath a bed when police arrived to break up a house party at teammate Paul Vaughan’s place on Saturday night.
Thirteen St George players were found to have breached COVID-19 restrictions by attending the house party on the weekend – with some lying to cover their tracks – as the NRL has been forced to impose 20 games worth of suspensions and dish out $305,000 in fines.
Vaughan was handed an eight-game suspension and handed a fine of $50,000 as the ring leader of the group. Twelve other players were handed one-game suspensions by the NRL, and each were hit with fines for lying about the gathering in attempts to cover up de Belin’s presence.
De Belin was not initially sanctioned by police on Sunday afternoon, however he was later dealt a sanction after it was revealed his teammates had covered for him, saying he had only dropped off beer. He had actually attended the party for a considerable length of time.
This latest incident comes just four games after De Belin’s return to the NRL, after sexual assault charges laid against him were dropped in May. Two previous trials had resulted in hung juries.
St George Illawarra chief executive Ryan Webb said his team’s “arrogance and ignorance” in breaching NRL protocols and government imposed public health orders was “infuriating”.
While the fines and combined 20-week suspensions has thrown the rest of the Dragons’ season into chaos, there’s no telling if these consequences are enough for players in a sport that has been given every opportunity possible to thrive in the pandemic.
Like many men’s sporting codes, the NRL has been dealt some of the best conditions to overcome the hurdles COVID-19 has thrown at sport, and it has had the resources to put on two usual seasons, with limited disruption. The AFL has been thrown similar lifelines.
Speaking on Offsiders over the weekend, former Australian Diamonds captain Sharni Norder (née Layton) spoke about the harsh realities the Super Netball competition has faced over the same period.
Just last week, most clubs in the competition had to make the last-minute ditch to Melbourne to save the season, as NSW, WA and Queensland imposed lockdowns and other restrictions amid COVID-19 outbreaks.
“A sport like netball doesn’t have the money, it also doesn’t have the resources, it also doesn’t have the connections,” she said on the program. “You look at the AFL, who tends to get notice from the government a few days’ in advance, the teams are moving around before things happen.”
“These girls are getting phone calls two hours before they need to get on flights and come down here to Melbourne and then they don’t know how long they’re going for.”
While Norder was referring to the privileges the AFL have been afforded during COVID-19, the same can be said for the NRL, as well as much of men’s sport.
“Netball doesn’t have the money or the resources, it also doesn’t have the connections.”— ABC SPORT (@abcsport) July 4, 2021
Former @AussieDiamonds captain Sharni Norder says the challenges of the past week have again highlighted the deficiencies within Australian netball.#Offsiders #netball @Sharni_Layton pic.twitter.com/JfVASu2lQK
Norder also spoke about the sacrifice women in sport tend to make when it comes to their families and children, especially over the last 18 months.
“You look at female sport, and I’m not saying the men don’t sacrifice, but however these women are having to leave their families, some are taking kids, some can’t go because they can’t leave their kids at home,” she said.
“Briony Ackle, the Swifts coach, has brought two kids with her, they didn’t know they were going to have to be in two weeks quarantine, so they had to ask people to come and drop off books and colouring in, because they didn’t have anything for their kids to do.”
As the Dragons come to terms with the shattered remains of their season, the entitlement of these players – to first host and attend the house party, but also to lie about what went on in the face of public health orders – mustn’t be forgotten.
With all the resources in the world, these players and their management should do better to uphold appropriate standards. Looking to the example of Super Netball might be somewhere to start.