UPDATE: Wayne Bennett has been stood down by the NRL for a period of two weeks on ‘COVID Hold’ after breaching the NRL’s strict bio-security rules by dining at a Leichhardt restaurant for lunch yesterday.
Bennett earlier today admitted he had dined at Grappa with his partner “who I live with” but claimed he thought that it was within the rules that govern the bubble.
Following an investigation by the NRL, that was deemed not to be the case and the master coach will be forced to coach his side from the confines of his home for the next fortnight as a result.
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Bennett is joined on the sidelines by Dragons star Paul Vaughan who was caught eating at an Illawarra cafe this morning.
“Both Bennett and Vaughan must isolate from their respective squads for two weeks and test negative to COVID-19 at the conclusion of the “COVID Hold” before returning to their squads,” the NRL declared via a press release this afternoon.
Acting CEO Andrew Abdo said the NRL’s decision was regrettable but a necessary part of the NRL’s bio-security protocols.
“We are living in extraordinary times and we must do everything in our power to ensure the health and safety of our players, staff and the general community,” Abdo said.
“This is a regrettable decision but today’s actions will operate as an important reminder to our players and staff about the importance of strict adherence to the protocols.”
Vaughan will miss the Dragons’ clash tonight with the Roosters as well as next Friday night’s match against the Eels. Bennett will be forced to hand over the coaching reins of the Rabbitohs for tomorrow night’s grudge match against the Broncos as well as next Saturday’s match against Manly.
The NRL’s rulings were made after Bennett gave a candid admission in his press conference earlier today, after The Daily Telegraph first reported his meal at Grappa.
His comments at the time indicate that he was blindsided by the NRL’s ruling.
“If it was a breach I wouldn’t have done it. I went with my partner who I live with,” Bennett said.
“I go shopping, I go out to get meals at different meals. There wasn’t many there at all. I was isolated, away from everybody, just had lunch.”
Grappa is a popular restaurant that has a capacity of up to 200 people.
Bennett added in his press conference that he would accept a standing down if the NRL determined that he had breached the rules.
“If that’s what happens, that’s their call. The rules have changed that many times, I didn’t think I was breaking any rules yesterday,” he said.
“It was just me and my partner, wasn’t a group.”
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Bennett said it was tough to stay on top of the rules given that the NRL bubble was recently relaxed before an uptick in COVID-19 cases in NSW and Victoria forced the stricter version of the bubble to be enacted once again.
“Protocols are changing all the time, at times I have been out when I thought it was right,” Bennett said.
“We’re totally confused about what we can and can’t do.
“A couple of weeks ago I think there was a conversation we had here just when there were a few more cases coming up in the state.
“I’m confident I do know the rules. As I said I just went to lunch yesterday, just the two of us, am I not allowed to eat?
“Being candid with you all here, we’re in a bubble but I’m sure we haven’t been perfect with it … we all comply but to think we’ve all been perfect with it, that wouldn’t been the fact.
”I go to the kebab shop and get a kebab … I think we’re getting a little small-minded here.”
Bennett’s alleged breach comes after he told players complaining about the NRL’s tough bio-security rules to “get on with it”.
“We’ve got a lot of biosecurity rules around us and I’m happy with that,” he said. “The rest of it, life has to go on for all of us in this country, whether its rugby league players or people in the workplace.
“You’ve just got to remember, it is what it is and you can have all the bad moments and all the down thoughts you want to have, but the bottom line is that it’s not going to change, so you just have to adapt to it and get on with it.”
Bennett’s absence from tomorrow’s match will be a huge blow after he yesterday lit a fire under his clash with bitter rival Anthony Seibold, telling The Courier Mail that it “is absolute bulls–t that I was planning stuff with Souths while Seibold was there.
“It’s like many things in life, people only want to muddy the waters when the truth is not told. That is the case of my so-called planning with Souths when Seibold was there.”
The Rabbitohs were reportedly unaware of Bennett’s possible breach when asked about it this morning, with club CEO Blake Solly telling The Daily Telegraph Bennett was on the training field and that the club couldn’t comment until he had a chance to discuss it with the coach.
The NRL confirmed to Wide World of Sports that an investigation was ongoing.