SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s top flight National Rugby League (NRL) has been plunged into scandal on the eve of its season-opener, with two Canterbury Bulldogs players stood down after taking two “young females” back to their hotel rooms on a pre-season tour.
The NRL’s integrity unit has issued “show cause” notices to Canterbury players Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera, which compel them to respond to allegations that they breached the competition’s code of conduct, club officials said on Wednesday.
“First, the matters that are the subject of the ongoing NRL disciplinary process occurred during the recent visit to Port Macquarie,” Canterbury CEO Andrew Hill told reporters at a media conference in Sydney.
“Second, I can confirm that the breaches do relate to players bringing young females of a consensual age back to the team hotel.
“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 alleged breaches occurred when the club was on a pre-season tour of the mid-north coast of the eastern state of New South Wales and stayed at Port Macquarie, a seaside town.
Players visited 12 local schools in the Port Macquarie area and held a junior clinic.
Sydney-based Canterbury, who face the Parramatta Eels in the NRL season-opener on Thursday, said they were conducting an internal review after reporting the incident to the NRL’s integrity department.
“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,” the club said.
The age of consent in New South Wales state is 16.
Local media reported the players had brought girls from a local high school in Port Macquarie back to their hotel rooms.
The scandal has cost the side a multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with a family restaurant group, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The NRL, the world’s richest rugby league competition, has long been plagued by unsavoury off-field incidents involving player behaviour.
Shortly before last year’s season-opener, the league implemented a new policy to stand down players facing serious indictable offences in the wake of a string of off-field incidents involving allegations of sexual assault and domestic battery.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Michael Perry