Former Canterbury Bulldogs premiership-winning coach Phil Gould has unloaded on Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor for dragging the NRL through the mud just days out from the start of the season.
The Bulldogs duo have been stood down and face serious sanctions after it was revealed they brought schoolgirls back to their hotel in Port Macquarie ahead of their trial match against Canberra last month.
Adding to the club’s woes, $2 million major sponsor, family restaurant chain Rashays, have reportedly pulled the plug on their deal with the club amid public outrage over the scandal.
A premiership winning coach with the Bulldogs in 1988, Gould was in disbelief over the “stupidity” of the duo’s actions and lamented the consequences for the club and wider league.
Bulldogs duo stood down after meeting pair on school trip visit
“What these two boys have done it just defies belief,” Gould said on his Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“I can’t believe after everything we’ve been through, that this would even be a thought. In something that’s so important to our game, our player engagement with communities and school programs, hospitals and the charitable things we do – to think that has led to this decision is unthinkable.
“These players have just got to get it through their thick heads. It’s just ridiculous, it really is ridiculous.
“It’s so stupid. I don’t know what they were thinking. They were about to announce a major sponsor and now they’ve lost that. It’s awful.
Details behind the reason why the Bulldogs stood down Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera
“If they think that no one will know and no one will find out, well there’s no secrets in rugby league. It will come out eventually. I think a lot of players will be disappointed in reading the news this week.”
Last year a torrid off-season saw the introduction of the ‘no fault’ stand-down policy – a rule that would grant the league power to sideline a player charged with an offence carrying a maximum jail sentence of at least 11 years – after a string of offences from high-profile players saw the game come under fire.
While the policy divided opinion, it looked as though the message had sunk in, with the current off-season giving head office a much easier ride.
But with just days left, the game has again been dragged into disrepute ahead of the season-opener, leaving Gould at a loss for what more the league, clubs and staff could do for their players.
“We keep thinking we’re going to get through an off-season without it,” he said. “We get to February and we think we’re through this unscathed. You get through the trial games and you’re hoping someone doesn’t do something silly after a trial game.
“99.9 per cent of the players are just so good now, they’re just so diligent, they understand it and they get the climate – they understand what the bad media does (for them).
“The clubs are relentless on them. The clubs can’t do any more to educate, and virtually plead with the players. We try as hard as we can to put as much security and education and knowledge in their heads, and not put them in situations where their interactions with public can turn to anything that could be criticised.
“It’s awful. We went through this last year at the Panthers at the start of last season. It does have an effect. It really does have an effect. What these two boys now have done is going to affect the mentality.
“We saw it with the Dragons last year, we saw it with the Panthers. This sort of stuff can have a terrible effect on the rest of the season.”
The Bulldogs and Parramatta usher in the new season in the league opener on Thursday night from Bankwest Stadium.