A day after Josh Addo-Carr and Latrell Mitchell landed in hot water for breaching social distancing regulations, Nathan Cleary has become the latest NRL player to invite scrutiny after photos emerged of the Panthers star posing among a group of people.
The photos, broadcast by the Nine Network, were reportedly taken on Anzac Day and show the NSW representative halfback reclining on a couch at his home with five women. Under NSW government rules implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, house visits are currently restricted.
Addo-Carr and Mitchell were fined $1,000 by NSW police on Monday after gathering with a group of men at a property on the mid-north coast of the state over the weekend. Melbourne player Addo-Carr faces further investigation for an alleged firearms breach.
The NRL sanctioned all three on Tuesday, fining Cleary $10,000 for his breach, while Addo-Carr and Mitchell were hit with $50,000 fines. Tyronne Roberts-Davis, who featured in the photos with Addo-Carr and Mitchell, was also fined $10,000. All fines were 60% suspended for the remainder of the season.
But the quartet will not miss any playing time once the season restarts, after receiving suspended one-match bans.
According to the Nine report, Cleary said the group of women at his house were his friends and stayed just a short time before leaving. He has since apologised to his teammates and club, the report added.
The latest incident comes at a time when the NRL can least afford to be embroiled in controversy. The league is pushing to become the first major code in Australia to restart the suspended season and is close to finalising details for a return to action on 28 May.
To do so would require all players and staff to adhere to strict biosecurity measures set out in a 48-page draft document distributed to clubs on Sunday. The clubs were due to again meet with the players’ union on Tuesday to thrash out final details of the guidelines with a view to players resuming training next week.
Measures in the document include strict isolation at home. Players would only be allowed out for training, to play games, receive medical treatment or shop for essential items. It is still to be determined whether hospital visits for players with pregnant partners and dropping children off at school will be allowed.
The NRL has said it will try to educate players and staff about the new guidelines, but will apply harsh penalties, including fines and points deductions, for those who do not comply.
Former Panthers general manager Phil Gould, who was instrumental in ensuring Cleary stayed at Penrith when a multimillion-dollar deal was signed in 2018, had called for tough sanctions.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys said: “It is important that, in these challenging times, we all have to work together to combat Covid-19 and compliance with public health orders is a critical requirement.
“The players have to understand that they are putting the game and the community at risk by their actions.
“It’s certainly hard to accept such behaviour when the game is doing everything it can to persuade the community that its players are responsible and behave appropriately.
“The penalties have been structured so as to give these players one further opportunity to demonstrate that they can be trusted. If they contravene again, then those parts of the penalty that have been suspended will be activated and they may also be subject to further sanction.”