When the NRL competition started back in March nobody gave the St George-Illawarra Dragons the slightest hope of winning a title.
Well, on Sunday night they proved the knockers wrong.
The Dragons are now arguably the dumbest team in football.
And that’s not just rugby league we’re talking. That’s all codes. Worldwide.
Of course the season still has a few months to run, and in sport anything is possible, but at this stage it’s hard to see anyone else lifting the title from them.
Not when they’ve got Jack de Belin in their side.
The St George-Illawarra Dragons are now arguably the dumbest team in football after 13 players attended an illegal house party during Sydney’s lockdown
Jack De Belin (pictured with partner Alyce) allegedly hid under a bed when the police arrived at teammate Paul Vaughan’s home on Saturday night. There is no suggestion Alyce was also at the party
To say nothing of the now-sacked Paul Vaughan running off his shoulder and the dynamic duo of Corey Norman and Matt Dufty bringing up the rear.
When Vaughan sidled up to de Belin after training one night last week and said, ‘Hey Jacko, I’m having a few of the boys over for a barbie on Sunday, you in?’, there were any number of responses de Belin could have chosen.
Like, say, ‘Aw, I don’t know mate. I’ve just been on the sideline for three years on that sexual assault charge that they dropped after two court cases couldn’t reach a verdict. I think I might have a quiet one.’
Or: ‘Isn’t that against the law at the moment because of the Covid lockdown? I know it definitely doesn’t comply with the current NRL bio-security protocols.
‘You know me Vaughany, I like a good time as much as the next man, but on this occasion I don’t think having a party is a wise decision. Count me out.’
He could also have said: ‘Hang on Paul, didn’t you get fined $10,000 last year for going out for a coffee during Covid and not signing in under your correct name?
‘Come on buddy, let’s learn from our mistakes. Just because we play “The Greatest Game of All” doesn’t put us above the law. I’m staying home and I think everyone else should too.’
But no. He went with: ‘Sounds good. Should I bring a plate?’
Police were called to Paul Vaughan’s Shellharbour home about 9.45pm on Saturday after neighbours complained of an illegal party taking place
Jack de Belin (pictured with his fiancée Alyce Taylor and their two kids) was allegedly hiding under a bed when police attended Paul Vaughan’s Saturday night barbecue. De Belin has since been fined $42,000 by the NRL. There is no suggestion Alyce was also at the party
And so did the rest of the geniuses who wear the Red V: Blake Lawrie, Daniel Alvaro, Jack Bird, Josh Kerr, Josh McGuire, Kaide Ellis, Tyrell Fuimaono, Zac Lomax, Gerard Beale, and the aforementioned Corey Norman and Matt Dufty.
I single out Norman and Dufty for special mention because they were both told last month that the Dragons did not want them next season. In other words, they are looking for new jobs.
Vaughan now joins them after St George sacked him on Tuesday for hosting the party – and he may be waiting a while for a new club with an eight-game suspension still to serve.
You can just imagine their managers fronting up to club officials around the country on Monday morning and trying to attract an offer.
‘Okay, so his defence can be a bit iffy,’ Dufty’s manager would say. ‘But he’s great for team morale. Never says no to a bonding session.’
Or Norman’s agent: ‘Look, Corey’s misunderstood. All that stuff about consorting with bikies, drugs at the casino, the sex tape and the fight at Cronulla… none of it was his fault.
‘The same with the barbecue. He just dropped in because he’d left his footy boots in Paul Vaughan’s car after the game and needed them for training. Didn’t even know there was a party on. Honest…’
Sorry to seem flippant, but if it wasn’t so serious it would be funny.
When police arrived at Paul Vaughan’s house (pictured) they found some players running down the streets and others hiding in cupboards. Jack de Belin was hiding underneath a bed
Actually, it is funny. The mental image of hulking big Jack de Belin squeezing his massive frame under a bed to avoid the police when they arrived is almost too good to be true.
Apparently other players hid in wardrobes, and I like to think one tried the old put a lampshade on your head and stand in the corner trick.
The others apparently just headed for the doors and windows and bolted down the street. The NRL is said to be investigating reports that their wives and girlfriends were running along after them.
Paul Vaughan – $50,000, plus eight game suspension
Corey Norman – $50,000 + one match
Jack de Belin – $42,000 + one match
Zac Lomax – $31,000 + one match
Jack Bird – $25,000 + one match
Matt Dufty – $23,000 + one match
Blake Lawry – $20,000 + one match
Josh Kerr – $18,000 + one match
Daniel Alvaro – $15,000 + one match
Josh McGuire – $12,000 + one match
Tyrell Fuimaono – $12,000 + one match
Kaide Ellis – $5,000 + one match
Gerard Beale – $2,000 + one match
The sounds of jewellery clinking and high heels clattering on the bitumen must have been deafening.
Of course, the Dragons debacle wasn’t the first example of footballers thinking that Covid restrictions don’t apply to them.
We’ve had Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary and his dance moves caught on social media, Souths’ coach Wayne Bennett ducking out for a romantic restaurant meal, the Broncos’ Tevita Pangai Jnr thinking it was okay to attend the opening of a bikie-run barber shop.
Then there was Souths’ Latrell Mitchell and the Storm’s Josh Ado-Carr going on a camping trip with a large group of friends and family on Mitchell’s country property.
As recently as last week, five Bulldogs players were fined for going on a pub crawl after the club failed to properly inform them of upgraded NRL protocols.
The AFL had its fair share of breaches as well: North Melbourne’s Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar holding a party for 10 at their Kensington home, and Fremantle players Jason Carter and Luke Ryan fined for a party at Carter’s place.
Perhaps most arrogant and self-entitled of all were the five Adelaide Crows players and three officials who flew back from a game in Sydney last month without wearing masks – on a commercial flight.
But in terms of sheer size and public outcry, the Dragons take the cake.
With the club’s long-suffering supporters just starting to see a glimmer of hope under new coach Anthony Griffin and an unlikely finals berth within grasp, the thoughtless stupidity of 13 players has seen their season go up in smoke.
The players have been hit with a combined 20 matches suspended and $305,000 in fines from the NRL, plus $1,000 each from NSW Police.
Paul Vaughan ‘s season may be over after he copped an eight match ban on Monday. He’s pictured with wife Elle, who also copped an $1,000 fine from cops
DDe Belin could have knocked back Vaughan’s invite saying: say, ‘Aw, I don’t know mate. I’ve just been on the sideline for three years on that sexual assault charge that they dropped after two court cases couldn’t reach a verdict. I think I might have a quiet one.’ But he didn’t
Vaughan, who has rarely justified his $800,000-a-season salary at the Dragons, was hardest hit, with a $50,000 fine and eight games on the sideline – if and when he finds a new club.
Norman, based on his past off-field record has also been fined $50,000 but fewer games suspended.
De Belin, who initially lied and told the Dragons that he was not at the party (and they, incredibly, believed him), copped a $42,000 fine.
The others are on a sliding scale, based on their annual salaries, down to Gerard Beale with $2,000.
But really, this is not about money. It’s about what it says to the general populace who, much as it might annoy or even anger them, have been playing by the rules.
No-one has put it better than league reporter James Hooper on Fox Sport’s NRL 360.
‘When you consider all the people that are out of work at the moment, that have either lost jobs, that are having to sit down and work from home, the word ‘arrogance’… I don’t think it’s strong enough,’ he said.
‘It’s just self-entitlement to the nth degree. It’s out of control.’