St George Illawarra have been forced to admit failings in club culture after Paul Vaughan was sacked on Tuesday for hosting an illegal party at his home with 12 other players at the weekend.
In an emergency meeting on Tuesday, the Dragons board decided to tear up the remaining 15 months of Vaughan's NRL deal which was worth around $750,000 per season.
Vaughan had already been fined $50,000 by the NRL and slapped with an eight-game ban for breaching COVID-19 protocols by hosting a party at his Shellharbour home.
Jack de Belin and other players have copped individual breach notices from the Dragons on top of the one-game suspensions and the $305,000 worth of fines handed out to the group.
Daniel Alvaro, Corey Norman, Gerard Beale, Jack Bird, Matt Dufty, Kaide Ellis, Tyrell Fuimaono, Josh Kerr, Blake Lawrie, Zac Lomax and Josh McGuire were also in attendance.
All 13 players as well as Vaughan's partner were fined $1000 by NSW Police for breaching a health order.
It has since emerged that de Belin and a handful of others misled authorities, the club and the NRL's integrity unit to cover up that he had been in attendance.
De Belin told the club that he had been walking his dog in the general area of the party and just dropped something off at Vaughan's house.
"I don't think we've got a culture problem but I don't think the culture is where we want it to be," Dragons chief executive Ryan Webb said on Tuesday.
"We need to honestly look at our culture and say we're not where we want to be and ask how are we going to improve it from here?"
It is Vaughan's second breach of the NRL's biosecurity rules after he attended a cafe while in the NRL bubble last season, and he was on his third warning for another unrelated incident.
Speaking on Fox Sports' NRL 360 on Tuesday night, Vaughan gave an emotional apology to the community, the NRL and his family, saying he realised early on the significance of his actions.
"I understand the community and the angst this has caused them. I never wanted that to happen. I can't say sorry enough," he said.
The 30-year-old also said he hopes this is not the last of his NRL career.
"I really hope not, this game I love so much, it really pains me to see the impact it's had on the game, it's heartbreaking," he said.
"I still have a burning desire to not only continue on playing but to show people I'm a good person and to win back their faith."
The 12 other players in attendance at the party were fined by the club, with the confidential figure to be donated to local charities.
They will have to complete "compulsory extracurricular club service".
It's understood Vaughan's eight-game NRL suspension will carry over to any subsequent NRL deal he signs.
The Dragons deliberated at length about whether to sack the ex-NSW and Kangaroos prop but did not consider tearing up the contracts of senior players de Belin and Norman.
Australian Associated Press
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