'It jeopardises the game': V'landys slams Bennett, Vaughan for COVID-19 breaches

ARL Commission chair Peter V'landys has warned the NRL season could be in jeopardy if other players and staff follow the lead of Wayne Bennett and Paul Vaughan and break the code's COVID-19 protocols.

The NRL was rocked by news on Thursday both Souths coach Bennett and NSW Origin star Vaughan broke strict biosecurity protocol – Vaughan by dining at an Illawarra cafe, Bennett by eating at Italian restaurant Grappa in Leichardt.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo on Thursday afternoon confirmed both Bennett and Vaughan will be placed in 14 day COVID-19 "holds" as they await test results and sit out the remainder of the incubation period.

"We are living in extraordinary times and we must do everything in our power to ensure the health and safety of our players, staff and the general community," Abdo said. "This is a regrettable decision but today's actions will operate as an important reminder to our players and staff about the importance of strict adherence to the protocols."

But V'landys had a stark warning for the rest of the NRL when he spoke to the Herald.

"I think this is a wake up call to all our participants, all of our players, all of our support staff. That if we continue to do this, even forgetting about this year, it jeopardises the game for future generations," V'landys said.

"Because if we don't finish this year, it will have consequential effects on future generations - including themselves. Because the pain will be felt in the next two or three years.

Mastercoach Wayne Bennett is in strife for breaching NRL biosecurity restrictions after he had lunch at a Norton Street restaurant with partner Dale Cage on Wednesday.

Mastercoach Wayne Bennett is in strife for breaching NRL biosecurity restrictions after he had lunch at a Norton Street restaurant with partner Dale Cage on Wednesday.Credit:Getty Images

"They're only hurting themselves. They should unite themselves and do the right thing for the game. Treat this as a wake-up call."

Despite his stern warning that continued indiscretions could see the NRL season suspended, as it would put the exemptions in place with the Queensland government in jeopardy, V'landys believes the punishments that will follow should send a clear message to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

"I don't think it's going to effect the exemptions because we're going to deal with them pretty harshly to show the government that we're credible and we will take the appropriate action," he said.

Dragons and Blues prop Paul Vaughan has broken the NRL's biosecurity protocols.

Dragons and Blues prop Paul Vaughan has broken the NRL's biosecurity protocols.Credit:Getty

"If they breach protocol, they will be stood down, they will be tested and they will be isolated for 14 days. We're abiding by our own protocols."

V'landys also took umbrage to Bennett saying the protocols are confusing.

"I don't think that's valid. It was well known that the rules were relaxed but they were then reintroduced once the Victorian situation caused uncertainty," he said.

"Wayne knows the difference between the relaxation and the original. They all knew the original protocols. We relaxed them but when we had this Victorian disaster, we reintroduced them."

Bennett stood in the middle of Redfern Oval and watched his players prepare for Friday night's clash against his old club Brisbane as News Limited reported Bennett had dined at Leichhardt restaurant Grappa on Wednesday.

It was well known that the rules were relaxed but they were then reintroduced once the Victorian situation caused uncertainty.

Peter V'landys

Speaking after Thursday morning's training session, Bennett confirmed he had attended Grappa.

"If it was a breach I wouldn't have done it," Bennett said. "I didn't think it was a breach. I went there with my partner, who I live with, just me and her, we had something to eat and that was it.

"It's in the hands of the NRL and people who are running our COVID quarantine.

"I go shopping, we go to different places to get meals at times. It's just me and my partner who live together.

"She was with me, I went somewhere to have something to eat at lunchtime.

"It's [the NRL's] call. The rules have changed that many times about what we can and can't do ... I didn't think I was breaking any rules yesterday because I wasn't with a group, it was just myself and my partner, there was nobody else, and we didn't sit near anybody.

"I feel great today."

Bennett sat on the Project Apollo committee and is one of the most knowledgeable people in rugby league, and conceded he of all people should have been across the COVID rules.

Rival players have already been forced to isolate for similar incidents, including Penrith's Charlie Staines who isolated after partying with too many friends and family after his NRL debut, plus a trip to hospital to be treated for lockjaw.

"I think I do know the rules, and I'm confident I do," Bennett said. "I went for lunch yesterday with someone I live with. I know I'm still allowed to eat, aren't I?

"We'll wait and see what happens and what they say.

"Of course it has been hard [keeping up]. Look at the TV news programs, people in different parts of Sydney have different rules, we have different rules, there's the border stuff. I come from Queensland where I have family up there still, we're totally confused about what we can and can't do."

Bennett then claimed the players and coaches as a whole had done a wonderful job following the protocols, but they had not been perfect.


"It's a difficult time for everyone in Australia right now," Bennett said.

"The governments have done a really good job and worked hard to get outcomes. We as a club and game have been good ourselves.

"Are we perfect? Probably not. But we've all tried and been supportive of it.

"We live in a bubble, but I'm sure we haven't been perfect with it, I'm sure we've had our moments, all of us. Basically we do comply right across the board. [But] to think we've all been perfect, that wouldn't be the fact."

Bennett added there may have been a couple of other times he had dined out during the pandemic.

It's not the first time Bennett has been in hot water with the NRL this year.

The Rabbitohs were fined $10,000 after Bennett did not tell the NRL about a video of Cody Walker kicking a man in the chest in his home town of Casino late last year.

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