St George Illawarra players didn’t think barbecue during Covid lockdown would be a ‘big deal’ | NRL

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Some of the St George Illawarra NRL players who broke Covid rules by attending an illegal barbecue have said they understood what they were doing was wrong but did not think it would turn out to be such a big deal.

Veteran Paul Vaughan was sacked by the club for hosting the gathering at his house in Shellharbour, where restrictions on social gatherings were in place due to the Covid-19 outbreak in NSW.

He was one of 13 players who were initially fined by the NRL to the tune of $305,000 all up, with bans handed out totalling a combined 20 weeks. They were also hit with club-imposed fines – the proceeds of which have gone to charities – and compulsory extracurricular club service. NSW police also issued fines to the 13 players.

On Tuesday, Josh McGuire and Blake Lawrie were the first of the group to front the media since the incident, saying they knew they were breaking the rules but never expected such a backlash.

“We can’t sit here and cry foul – we put ourselves into a situation at the time [but] we didn’t think it would escalate to the magnitude it has,” McGuire said. “We’re very sorry and remorseful. It was a bunch of blokes who made an honest, stupid mistake and just didn’t think.

“We did understand [what we were doing was wrong]. We can’t sit here and say we didn’t. We were in Shellharbour which is a long way away from everything that was happening.

“The decision to go to the barbecue, everyone made. At the end of the day we just thought that there wasn’t going to be a drama and we wouldn’t get caught. We just thought if we kept it within the team it wasn’t going to be a big deal and obviously it is.”

McGuire defended his teammates after some tried to hide from police who arrived at the address following a complaint from a neighbour.

“They were scared of repercussions of what would happen and I think it was just something like fight-or-flight mode,” McGuire said. “A few of us stood there and talked to police and a few boys didn’t want to hang around.”

Lawrie added: “As soon as the police rocked up we knew we did the wrong thing. Some chose to avoid the police. I wouldn’t say anyone fled.”

Lawrie said he thought the gathering was just “a harmless get together” and had not considered it might be the wrong thing to do.

“If it crossed my mind I would have knocked it on the head straight away,” he said. “But I thought it was just a harmless get together and we’re obviously seeing now how bad it’s affected a lot of people.”

Lawrie was asked how the group of players could have made such a misjudgement amid a lockdown that is impacting five million Sydney residents. “Because we’re in our own bubble mate,” he said.

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