Australia

Bulldogs pair get back pay as bans lifted over schoolgirl sex scandal

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Bulldogs players Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor will have their contracts back paid after the NRL's appeals committee reversed their sackings over the Port Macquarie schoolgirl sex scandal.

Harawira-Naera and Okunbor will be owed tens of thousands of dollars, and are free to resurrect their NRL careers, under a ruling from an independent body which left the governing body "disappointed".

 Jayden Okunbor communicated with a Port Macquarie schoolgirl via Snapchat.

Jayden Okunbor communicated with a Port Macquarie schoolgirl via Snapchat.Credit:Getty Images

Canterbury officials on Monday night were weighing up their options with the duo, who were banned indefinitely for having consensual sex with schoolgirls before the club's final pre-season match in Port Macquarie in February. Neither were the subject of any police investigation.

Harawira-Naera could be available for selection as soon as round 11, pending advice about biosecurity protocols. The NRL appeals committee lightened his punishment to a 10-game suspension and a fine of $15,000.

Okunbor will serve a 14-game ban, along with a $22,500 fine, and undergo a course of counselling as directed by interim NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo.

The pair had lodged appeals against their NRL deregistration over the affair, in which Okunbor used Snapchat to communicate with a girl he met during a school visit earlier that day.

He later invited the girl back to the team's hotel before having consensual sex.

The scandal cost the Bulldogs a major sponsor, with restaurant chain Rashays, which was poised to sign a $2 million deal, halting negotiations with the club on the eve of the NRL season.

Canterbury remain without a primary backer almost halfway through a COVID-19 interrupted season.

The NRL made little attempt to hide its frustration with the appeals committee's ruling, which will ensure Harawira-Naera and Okunbor are paid their contracts back to April 1 minus their fines and the player-agreed pay cuts this season.

"The NRL took the action which it considered necessary given the serious breaches of the code of conduct - breaches the appeals committee also found to be serious," Abdo said.

"The independent appeals committee has taken a different view on what penalty the players should face and although we are disappointed, we respect the outcome."

The Rugby League Players Association "welcomed" the decision of the appeals committee, chaired by High Court judge Ian Callinan.

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"The details of the appeal process should remain confidential and the decision of the committee respected," the RLPA said in a statement.

"An independent appeals process being available to review integrity-related decisions is fundamental to ensuring players are afforded due process and a fair hearing in these matters.

"The RLPA will continue to work with both players, the NRL and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs regarding their return to training and playing commitments."

A number of NRL rivals had already expressed interest in former Panthers back-rower Harawira-Naera before the appeals panel's verdict.

The 25-year-old New Zealand international loomed as one of coach Dean Pay's biggest attacking threats this season and his absence has proved a huge blow for a club anchored to the NRL cellar with just one win in nine games.

The Bulldogs board is poised to make a decision on Pay's future imminently as the club desperately tries to land recruits before next season under a salary cap shorn of previous obstacles.

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