Inside the boozy lunch that could destroy the Broncos
A pub lunch and drinking session involving up to 10 high-profile Broncos players is being investigated by police and the NRL's integrity unit, in the latest COVID scandal to rock the league.
Despite the NRL and Broncos attempting to play down the incident it can be revealed the players - which witnesses say included David Fifita, Kotoni Staggs, Jake Turpin and Corey Oates - were seated at a table covered with glasses of beer, and some visited the pokie room.
While the Broncos say the players believed it was allowed under rugby league's COVID "bubble" rules, it can also be revealed the NRL wrote to all clubs on June 23 and explicitly told them players could not visit pubs, RSLs, leagues clubs, bowls clubs or surf clubs.
Despite the warning, the large group of players were seen socialising at the Everton Park Hotel on August 1, a day after the clash with the Cronulla Sharks, allegedly in breach of the league's strict agreement with Queensland Health.
The COVID crisis comes as officials - and even the Premier - warned the league it was on its last chance following a series of breaches involving players and coaches in recent days.
The team and the NRL on Tuesday tried to play down the incident and questioned if the group was having lunch, however The Courier-Mail has confirmed players spent some of the time drinking.
"I was present at the Everton Park Hotel last Saturday (August 1) when approximately 10 Broncos players lunched and drank in the sports bar," a pub patron told The Courier-Mail.
"Some of the players played the night before (against the Sharks at Suncorp Stadium).
"I spoke to the bar manager and she didn't think they were allowed there either."
It is understood the players were not in the restaurant and were seen by other patrons seated at a table covered with glasses of beer. Some players were seen visiting the pokies. The group was at the hotel from 11.30am until 2.30pm.
NRL teams must operate under strict rules - essentially confining them to their homes, training and games - because they are coming into contact with players who have travelled from interstate coronavirus hot spots.
Teams travelling into Queensland have been given exemptions from quarantine, provided players and coaches remain within a "bubble" and don't interact with the community.
A letter sent by the NRL to all clubs on June 23 outlined restrictions on players and coaches, informing them they could "leave home to go to a cafe, restaurant" but that "pubs, RSLs, Leagues Clubs, Bowls Clubs, Surf Clubs" were banned.
"Can you please ensure these directives are communicated to all members of your Apollo Register at your respective clubs and that this email is forwarded to your COVID co-ordinator and Football Manager," the letter said.
Restrictions were tightened in mid-July, with ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk coming to an agreement when border restrictions were ramped up following coronavirus outbreaks in NSW.
The restrictions included Queensland-based players being banned from "pubs, clubs and restaurants".
"It's a huge relief," V'landys said at the time.
"The Queensland premier has been magnificent."
Yesterday, when asked about the Broncos' pub gathering, he said: "This is of concern and it will be investigated. I can't comment any further."
Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said the police investigation would focus on whether the players had breached the Chief Health Officer's directions.
He said possible breaches of the "NRL bubble" would be handled by the NRL.
"The issue really is of whether there is any evidence of any breach by members of that group against the Chief Health Officer's directions," he said.
Mr Gollschewski would not comment on whether players had signed the hotel's COVID register.
"These are all matters that are under investigation, that's not concluded yet," he said.
"What we are trying to do is get to the point where we conclude our investigation so that we can then pass on to Queensland Health the information they need for any further action that needs to be taken."
A statement from the Brisbane Broncos said the club was aware of reports of an "alleged COVID breach by a group of players at the Everton Park Hotel".
"The Club has spoken at length to the players involved, who attended the hotel for lunch on Saturday, August 1 - after players and staff inside the club's `COVID bubble' had transitioned back into more-relaxed Project Apollo Queensland restrictions," the spokesman said.
"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."
The investigation comes after a series of breaches involving NRL players and coaches. The breaches prompted stern warnings from both the NRL and the Queensland Premier that clubs were on their last warning.
The Premier's office did not comment when contacted by The Courier-Mail yesterday.
Sports Minister Mick de Brenni said it wouldn't be appropriate for him to comment, citing the investigation.
"The Chief Health Officer gave them exemptions to be able to run the competition here in Queensland," he said.
"That has some very specific rules and it's up to all of the codes to meet those rules.
"The Broncos and the NRL are no different, we expect them to comply with all of those arrangements."
In a separate COVID NRL breach at the weekend, Tevita Pangai Jnr attended the opening of a barber shop linked to the Mongols bikie gang.
In another COVID bubble breach, Brisbane trainer Alfie Langer and conditioning duo Ryan Whitley and Blake Duncan were stood down after they attended a birthday bash at the Caxton hotel.
Queensland Health was sent a list of questions about the NRL bubble and potential breaches after the latest incident.
A spokesman said: "The Queensland Police Service is currently investigating this matter and Queensland Health will assess the outcome of that investigation."
Originally published as Inside the boozy lunch that could destroy the Broncos