A pub poker machine room has become the focus of an investigation into a potentially major NRL biosecurity breach by the Brisbane Broncos.
The club informed the NRL that players had lunch at Everton Park Hotel on August 1, after a hard lock-down ended and COVID-19 restrictions were eased.
Up to 10 players were in attendance, according to reports, with David Fifita, Kotoni Staggs, Jake Turpin, Corey Oates, Ben Te’o and Brodie Croft named; along with Tevita Pangai Jr, who is already facing the sack, and has been stood down indefinitely and fined $30,000 over a separate breach involving the opening of a bikie-owned barber shop.
While a contained lunch that did not involve contact with the general public may have been permissible, and the basis for Brisbane believing its players would be cleared, further claims have emerged that could plunge the Broncos and the NRL into hot water.
Patrons have told Brisbane media that players were drinking in the sports bar and playing poker machines during their visit, apart from having lunch. Those actions could constitute a breach of NRL protocols and the league’s strict agreements with Queensland Health.
The NRL has asked Queensland police to provide CCTV footage of the pub, to verify Brisbane’s version of events or otherwise. Proven breaches by the Broncos players would potentially be disastrous for the game. Both police and NRL officials are making inquiries into the pub visit.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned the NRL that her patience is running out, with rugby league players and officials busted over a raft of incidents recently.
When NRL restrictions were tightened again in mid-July, Queensland-based players were expressly banned from attending pubs and clubs.
Restaurants and cafes are permissible according to the relaxed protocols under which the Broncos players believed they were operating. Eating at the Everton Park Hotel bistro may have been deemed permissible but Brisbane could be in strife if its players are proven to have ventured into other parts of the pub.
Brisbane Broncos players returned to training at their Red Hill base on Thursday morning. The club responded to the pub furore in a statement on Wednesday.
“The Brisbane Broncos are aware of reports of an alleged COVID breach by a group of players at the Everton Park Hotel after reports to both Queensland Police and the NRL’s Project Apollo.
“The club has spoken at length to the players involved, who attended the hotel for lunch on Saturday, August 1 – the same day that players and staff inside the club’s ‘COVID bubble’ had transitioned back into more-relaxed Project Apollo Queensland restrictions.
“The team had played Cronulla at Suncorp Stadium the night before, which marked the end of a 14-day hard lockdown put in place after the team travelled to Sydney for the Round 10 game against the West Tigers on July 17.
“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 club has been working closely with the NRL and provided a range of information as requested, and is awaiting a determination.”