St George Illawarra Dragons sack Paul Vaughan over COVID-19 breach

The St George Illawarra Dragons have terminated the contract of prop Paul Vaughan for his breach of NRL biosecurity guidelines, and handed out more fines to the 12 teammates he hosted at his house on the weekend.

The league had already fined Vaughan $50,000 and banned him for eight matches for hosting a party at his Shellharbour home on Saturday night during the COVID-19 lockdown, breaching NRL and NSW government rules.

Twelve other Dragons players attended and were fined $1,000 each by NSW Police, with further fines from the NRL ranging from $2,000 to $50,000.

Vaughan was contracted until the end of 2022 but the Dragons board decided at a meeting on Tuesday to release him early “as a result of now a number of breaches that include and predate the current matter”.

Vaughan was also fined $10,000 for breaking the NRL’s biosecurity rules last year by going to an Illawarra cafe while he was supposed to be in a bubble.

Dragons coach Anthony Griffin revealed in a Tuesday press conference that Vaughan in fact had “two prior breaches that included COVID-related issues”, but neither he or chief executive Ryan Webb elaborated further on what that second prior offence was.

Vaughan himself took to Instagram on Tuesday night to apologise.

“The reality is, I should have known better and I am truly sorry,” he wrote.

“I have let a lot of people down through my actions, and I hope that this sincere apology shows how deeply sorry I am and that I realise the enormity and stupidity of what I have done.

“To say that I have learnt a lesson from this is an understatement. I hope one day in the future, I can get the opportunity to showcase my remorse through better actions on and off the field.”

Webb said cutting Vaughan loose “wasn’t an easy decision by any means”.

“You’re talking about a guy’s career and he’s got a family. There was definitely some fair discussion around the board,” he said.

“Paul took the news as you’d expect. He took it quite hard and he was probably quite shocked by the news.”

The board decided to fine the 12 other Dragons players at the party an undisclosed amount that the club said would be donated to various charities.

“The board haven’t taken any of the 13 players’ actions lightly and reinforced this on Tuesday morning by taking these additional actions including the termination of Paul Vaughan’s contract,” Webb said.

“The club maintains it holds no reservations over the punishments already handed down by the NRL Integrity Unit and New South Wales Police.

“These additional penalties have been determined in such a way that the beneficiaries will be those affected by the players’ misconduct.”

Webb on Monday night said the 13 players’ “arrogance and ignorance” was “upsetting and infuriating”, adding that there was no excuse for not knowing the rules.

“Every member of the club’s Apollo register were communicated their responsibilities and limitations under level four protocols on numerous occasions,” Webb said in a statement.

“All 13 players have let the rest of their teammates, the entirety of our hardworking staff, their families, the wider community and most importantly our Red V members, partners and fans down.

“The entire club and our stakeholders will now be punished as a result of the combined 20-week suspension procured between the 13 players.”

Jack de Belin was among the players fined by police and the NRL for going to the party, and Griffin was asked if his breach was particularly galling considering he has only recently returned to the NRL after having multiple sexual assault charges against him dropped at the end of a long trial.

“We stood by Jack and that’s a different matter altogether. That’s a legal matter, which has been resolved. This is a totally separate issue obviously,” Griffin said.

“Jack’s not proud of what’s happened over the last couple of days. The club supported him, so what he has to do now is perform and repay what the board and the rest of the club have given him the opportunity to do.”

Webb said the board did not consider sacking De Belin or Corey Norman, who also has some off-field indiscretions to his name, including posting a photo with convicted rapist Jarryd Hayne the day before Hayne was jailed for five years and nine months.