THE Dragons will be without star forward Paul Vaughan for three games after the Test prop was ordered into a 14-day "COVID Hold" after breaching NRL biosecurity protocols.
The club confirmed that Vaughan broke protocols in having breakfast at an Illawarra cafe on Thursday morning, a breach of 'bubble' stipulations stating players and staff are not to attend cafes, restaurants, clubs or pubs.
It saw him ruled out of Thursday's clash with the Roosters in Wollongong, while the quarantine period will also see him miss matches against the Eels and Broncos in the next fortnight.
The 29-year-old issued a public apology on Thursday, labelling his actions "reckless" and "selfish."
"Everyone within the Dragons' bubble, including myself, are well aware of the protocols in place," Vaughan said.
"I'm sorry for the harm my actions have caused to the club and my teammates. I am very remorseful for the reckless and selfish decision I have made."
Vaughan will need to pass a COVID-19 test at the end of the 14-day period before returning to play, with Dragons CEO Ryan Webb stating further sanctions are "not out of question."
"Paul is one of our most experienced players and we are upset with his judgement in breaking the NRL's COVID-19 biosecurity protocols," Webb said.
"Not only has he let the playing group and the entirety of our hard-working staff down but also our red v members, partners and fans."
In another stunning development, the Rabbitohs will also be without coach Wayne Bennett for the same period after he admitted to having lunch at a Leichhardt restaurant with his partner on Wednesday.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said there was no option but to stand the pair down in accordance with biosecurity protocols.
"We are living in extraordinary times and we must do everything in our power to ensure the health and safety of our players, staff and the general community,'' Abdo said.
"This is a regrettable decision but today's actions will operate as an important reminder to our players and staff about the importance of strict adherence to the protocols."
"Our players and staff have made significant sacrifices to ensure the season can proceed. I have sympathy for the liberties they have had to give up and I am proud of how well the overwhelming majority have complied with our protocols.
"We have worked closely with governments, biosecurity experts and our clubs to ensure a successful and entertaining season and today's enforcement of protocols will ensure no risk to the playing groups or the general community."
Abdo's statement made no mention of any further sanctions, with game's missed likely to be deemed sufficient. Canterbury front-rower Aiden Tolman was forced to isolate for two weeks earlier this season because of a teacher at his child's school returning a positive test.
Knights young-gun Bradman Best was stood also down for a week after visiting his parents before such visits were permitted by players within the bubble.
Earlier this year Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell and Test teammate Josh Addo-Carr were fined $20,000 for breaching government social distancing protocols after posting pictures of a trip to Mitchell's farm near Taree on social media in April.
Penrith star Nathan Cleary was suspended for two games and fined $30,000 after the emergence of a TikTok video of him partying with a group of women on Anzac Day. It was an increased sanction after Cleary initially lied to the Integrity Unit about the nature of the breach.
That incident, and those involving Mitchell and Addo-Carr, came prior to the NRL instituting it's strict bubble measures as the season resumed in May, with ARLC chairman Peter V'landys vowing to come down hard on any further breaches.
It comes as Victoria remains in the grip of a record-breaking second wave of COVID-19, while Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will close the state's borders on Saturday after declaring the state of NSW a virus hotspot.
Palaszczuk has been in regular dialogue with V'landys who's provided repeated assurances that the game will comply with strict measures to ensure the competition can continue in Queensland.
There have also been investigations into the large crowd that attended Melbourne's clash with Newcastle on the Sunshine Coast last Sunday, with images showing little to no social distancing among spectators.