League boss considers tougher penalties for bubble breaches

In this July 18, 2020, photo, National Rugby League Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett watches his players during a match in Sydney, Australia. Bennett cou...

In this July 18, 2020, photo, National Rugby League Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett watches his players during a match in Sydney, Australia. Bennett cou...

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Rugby League powerbroker Peter V’landys has warned players and coaches that those breaking the strict bio-security regulations in place for the coronavirus pandemic are putting their incomes, the game and the public at risk.

The Australian Rugby League commission chairman on Monday hinted that tougher penalties could be imposed after reports of three more NRL players breaching the so-called bio-security bubbles over the weekend.

It follows a number of high-profile rugby league identities, including seven-time premiership-winning coach Wayne Bennett, being sanctioned last week and put on quarantine holds for 14 days after leaving their teams to go out in public.

“It’s extremely disappointing because they’re putting at risk not only their own income but the income of a lot of people in the game,” V’landys said Monday. “And not only their income now but their income for the future in the next two to three years, probably generations.

“Because if our game stops, we’ll need to borrow money and those monies will need to be repaid at some point.”

The National Rugby League season went into hiatus after two rounds in March when Australia closed its international borders and went into lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. It was the first collision sport to resume competition in late May, but only after making assurances to federal, state and local governments about the strict protocols around the isolation of players and team staff.

Under the NRL’s bio-security rules designed to keep the league in play during the pandemic, players and selected club officials cannot have visitors or go to pubs, cafes or restaurants.

Australian media reported that Brisbane Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Jr. and two Newcastle Knights players breached the bio-security bubbles on the weekend. Pangai Jr. reportedly went to the public opening of a barber shop.

Queensland state Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, described the player breaches as “incredibly frustrating."

While Queensland has shut its border to New South Wales and Victoria, which is in strict lockdown after a second wave of coronavirus infections, the so-called Sunshine State has become home-away-from-home for the NRL's Melbourne Storm, all Melbourne clubs in the Australian Football League and the entire Super Netball League. All interstate teams must abide by strict isolation rules.

“Every code that’s here in Queensland has signed up to an industry plan and must do the right thing,” Palaszczuk said.

The state's chief health officer said recent breaches could potentially put the NRL season in jeopardy and urged the players to understand the seriousness of the situation.

The breaches haven't been only in the NRL, with a series of fines handed out in the homegrown sport of Aussie rules.

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley was fined 25,000 Australian dollars ($18,000) by the Australian Football League after he and his assistant Brenton Sanderson played tennis with Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik, a former tennis professional, in the Western Australia capital city of Perth.

And Brooke Cotchin, the wife of the Richmond Tigers’ two-time premiership-winning captain Trent Cotchin, cost the club A$20,000 ($14,300) after she breached bio-security protocols last week in Queensland state by going to a beauty salon to get a facial treatment.

Carlton, the North Melbourne Kangaroos and Hawthorn clubs have also been fined by the AFL.

Australia's death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 300, with Victoria state confirming 19 deaths and 322 new cases on Monday.

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