School girls scandal costs Dogs millions
Canterbury's round-one preparations have been rocked with Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor stood down two days out from their NRL season-opener against Parramatta.
Both players have been provisionally suspended by the NRL and the club says neither were subject to a criminal investigation, but had been issued a show-cause notice by the league after the club notified them of alleged misconduct.
Bulldogs CEO Andrew Hill fronted reporters on Wednesday alongside coach Dean Pay and confirmed widespread media reports the players were stood down for "bringing young females of a consensual age back to the team hotel" during a visit to Port Macquarie last month for a trial game.
The Daily Telegraph reports the females involved are in high school but are both over the age of consent (16 in NSW) and neither they nor their families have complained to police, or the NRL or Bulldogs.
The club is without a major sponsor for 2020 and it was reported on Wednesday the scandal has hit the Bulldogs financially because a potential backer pulled out after being told of the incident.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports family restaurant chain Rashays and the club had agreed on a sponsorship deal worth $2 million which was set to be announced on Tuesday night.
But after the club informed Rashays of the scandal, the deal was withdrawn, leaving the club without a major sponsor on the front of its jersey.
Speaking to media today, Hill said: "The matters that are the subject of the ongoing NRL disciplinary process occurred during the recent visit to Port Macquarie.
"The club wishes to reiterate that while neither player is the subject of a current police investigation, these are very concerning matters that the club has treated very seriously.
"The conduct not only breaches the club's code of conduct, it is not reflective of the standards and values we have tried to instil in our players.
"With all that said, there is an ongoing NRL disciplinary process regarding these matters. And out of respect for that process, and for all those involved in it, we can't make further comment."
In a tense press conference, Hill repeatedly batted away reporters' questions about the scandal, saying he was unable to provide further comment because the matter was under investigation.
Hill's comments came after an earlier statement on Tuesday afternoon.
"Each (player) was issued a show cause notice by the NRL as to why they shouldn't face further disciplinary action for alleged breaches of the game's code of conduct," Hill said.
"While neither player is the subject of a criminal investigation, the club is treating the matter very seriously.
"The Bulldogs referred the matter to the NRL integrity unit after receiving concerning reports of alleged misconduct by the two players.
"The club also initiated its own internal review.
"The allegations are that each player engaged in behaviour that represents a serious breach of the NRL rules and the Bulldogs' code of conduct, resulting in the NRL notice."
On Triple M's Rush Hour with MG, Sydney Morning Herald reporter Michael Chammas said: "They did breach team policy by bringing girls back to the room.
"In terms of the Bulldogs, they set these guidelines out for the players that they weren't to bring females back to the room.
"The girls were in high school, but they were of legal age, however, the club made the moral judgment this was against what they stood for and decided in consultation with the NRL that they'd stand them down.
"This came to the Bulldogs on Friday and there's been a series of interviews with the people involved since then and they've decided to take this course of action."
Harawira-Naera moved to the club last year from Penrith, and formed a dangerous part of the Bulldogs' strong back row.
He led the NRL last year in offloads with 59, and also busted through 41 tackles.
Okunbor made his debut on the wing last year, and proved to be one of the game's most powerful runners of the ball.
He made headlines when he ran over Melbourne captain Cameron Smith in his second NRL game.
Both players had been training with the NRL club's top team as recently as Monday.
"The club supports the NRL's decision to issue the breach notices and will continue to work with the NRL to conclude the process," Hill said.
"Both players have an opportunity to respond to the matters alleged in the breach notice before any final decision is made."
Both the NRL and Bulldogs have been approached for further comment.