‘NRL’s warning shot’: heavyweight’s shutdown threat
Deputy Premier John Barilaro has warned the NSW Government could shut down the NRL season if players again breach COVID-19 guidelines, saying: "This is the warning shot".
A crucial figure in rugby league's push to restart on May 28, Barilaro has told The Daily Telegraph he supports the decision to fine - rather than suspend - NRL stars Latrell Mitchell, Nathan Cleary and Josh Addo-Carr for serious public health breaches.
Despite calls from several commentators, including Phil Gould, to ban all three players for the season, they will now be free to play after paying a combined sum of $44,000.
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On Tuesday, the NRL fined Mitchell and Addo-Carr $50,000 each (60 per cent of which is suspended) for their now infamous northern NSW camping trip.
While each player also received a one-match ban, that too has been suspended until the end of the season.
A fourth player, Newcastle's Tyrone Roberts-Davis, received the same sanctions as Cleary after also attending the same camping trip as Mitchell and Addo-Carr.
On the phone with The Daily Telegraph when the fines were made public, Barilaro described the sanctions as "fair" but warned further indiscretions could see the code shut down immediately.
"This is the warning shot," said Barilaro, who has played a major role in several negotiations, including getting the Warriors into Australia by May 4.
"When the game gets going again, no player can breach the rules.
"Once the NRL competition is up and running, players must understand their actions could have broader ramifications for the entire game.
"We understand no player has ever been bigger than rugby league.
"Which is why it's important in this situation we deal with individuals and don't punish the game. Or not yet.
"But if this happens again when the season is back underway, if there are more and more breaches, the NRL will be held accountable by both the public and the NSW Government."
Asked if the sanctioned trio, who all represented NSW Origin last year, had put the code's hyped season restart in doubt, Barilaro continued: "I don't think it has sabotaged what we are trying to do.
"But it isn't helpful.
"We have convinced a lot of people to get this season underway again, but not everyone.
"I'm arguing (to government) that the NRL is putting measures in place to deal with all the restrictions around COVID-19, then before we even get going a couple of players breach those rules.
"People are working tirelessly to get rugby league going again and these players jeopardise that."
NSW Police are also investigating Cleary over possible breaches of social distancing orders after images of the Panthers halfback emerged with girls said to be friends of his sister.
It is alleged the group stayed only briefly at a home the 22-year-old shares with fellow Panther Tyrone May.
NRL players are on their final warning with chairman Peter V'landys promising "much tougher" penalties should anyone in the game flaunt the game's new tough biosecurity measures or break social distancing protocols.
The NRL will introduce tough new biosecurity measures when training resumes on Monday with V'landys declaring the players have run out of chances.
The draft biosecurity measures were sent to clubs on Sunday afternoon and includes players' living arrangements needing approval, a ban on taxis and ride sharing, daily household questionnaire and mandatory temperature checks.
"The next one will be harsher," V'landys said. "We've given them the benefit of the doubt in this instance. Out of every negative is a positive and the positive here is that every player is on notice.
"Their actions are extremely important during this pandemic crisis."
V'landys said the players were "on a good behaviour bond".
"If they transgress again not only will they have to pay the rest of the fine they will be suspended and face further punishment," V'landys said. "(They weren't suspended) because it was believed that the clubs have done nothing wrong here.
"Once they go into the clubs control (from Monday) there is that suspension over their heads." is that suspension over their heads."
Interim NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo confirmed the initial punishments were only for breaking social distancing rules, and further sanctions could apply for the alleged firearms offences.
"We're not making any judgment on any criminal activity," Abdo said. "This is based on players acting against a public health order and the fact that this has brought the game into disrepute.
"We will wait before any criminal matter that's investigated by the police and we'll make our judgments then.
"We'll review the findings of the police and once we have that we'll be in a better situation to determine whether or not any further punishment is required."
Originally published as 'NRL's warning shot': heavyweight's shutdown threat