THE Dragons were just waiting for a mate.
It might trivialise things, but that's what repeatedly comes to mind in the fallout to the now infamous house party at Paul Vaughan's digs on Saturday night.
For the uninitiated, 'just waiting for a mate' has entered the Aussie vernacular after Channel Seven's Highway Patrol in 2013 broadcast a traffic stop in which police came upon a bloke who'd crashed his car late at night in front of an empty shopping mall.
"What collision?" he asks, when quizzed about the prang. "I'm just waiting for mate."
He stoically maintains the line, despite cameras panning out showing his car has mounted the kerb, the front wheels are shot and the vehicle littered with empty Wild Turkey cans. We can all see it, he cannot.
It's fair to say that bloke's hangover still hurt slightly less than Vaughan's. He has paid a hefty price. Given the club had been trying to offload him for more than a year, he certainly led with his chin.
Dragons observers would be wise to bookmark it, though. Wait and see if the club takes a similarly strong stance in future on a player they don't want to offload.
It's hard to recall a party winding up at 9pm drawing such infamy.
There has been some juicy details emerge in the days since; suggestions Jack de Belin was hiding under a bed and Corey Norman footing it, leaving his wallet and car at party central.
They're the tidbits seized on by the players' fiercest critics and staunchest defenders. They illustrate the arrogance and hypocrisy of - either the players concerned or 'vultures' in the media pursuing them.
You can question the veracity of the taller tales but take a look at what is not in dispute. Club staff - including coach Anthony Griffin and head of football Ben Haran - explicitly told players not to party, knowing that would be the inclination with a bye looming.
Josh Dugan had just been fined $25,000 and five Bulldogs players were fined for breaking the then level-three protocols. The club was fined $50,000.
The NRL had moved to its maximum level four biosecurity protocols with which all players were more than familiar with last season. Level four restrictions may be the hardest to follow, but they're the easiest to understand.
The NRL remains in frequent and ongoing discussions with three state governments to keep the competition running, TV deals afloat and the players getting paid.
For those asking 'they can train together, sweat, spit, wrestle but can't have a beer together?' Um, no. It's the law.
Shellharbour was part of the Greater Sydney lockdown declared on June 26 and that would run to July 9 (now extended) forbidding any non-essential visitors to any home.
The state laws apply to all of us including NRL footballers who, as we so often hear, just want to be treated like regular people away from the bright lights.
There are regular people everywhere who can't go and visit dying loved ones in nursing homes; can't attend funerals, can't see loved ones interstate. Players themselves have dealt with all those struggles.
Pubs, cafes and shops are shut or laying off staff. People have lost businesses, livelihoods and are presently banking a $500-per-week crisis payment to get through another lockdown.
It proved an expensive lesson for Vaughan, but the real issue stretches far beyond simply him or the Dragons. What the entire COVID experience has revealed is that a large chunk of NRL players were living in a bubble long before the pandemic.
Back when it first hit, we had Joey Leilua and Addin Fonua-Blake saying they wouldn't cop pay cuts despite the game being on the brink of financial ruin. It's unlikely players would elect either of them as their official mouthpiece, but it illustrated a sense of delusion.
After the whack the game copped last year, everyone accepted there'd need to be some belt tightening in ensuing years. RLPA initially offered to take just a 2.5 per cent reduction in the salary cap for this year and next. It ultimately agreed to six per cent after a six-month stalemate.
As officials have scrambled to stage the 2021 State of Origin series - just one of three games at their scheduled venues - the RLPA wants to discuss doubling the $15,000 players stipend per nine-day Origin camp.
Last year the RLPA took the NRL's no-fault policy to arbitration - and lost - but, with each CBA negotiation, campaigns for a larger chunk of the bottom line the policy was put in place to safeguard.
Talk about tone deaf.
The maximum contract for NRL women players this season is $28,000 (that's slightly less than two Origin camps for their male counterparts).
In the Illawarra alone last season, your columnist watched Thirroul Butchers and Wests Devils step up to a Sydney competition and fall just short of finals, despite battering their bodies every week - all for zero coin.
By and large, few rugby league fans begrudge NRL stars their hefty pay packets. I certainly don't.
It's a tough, demanding game and, if it were easy, there'd be a lot more of us doing it.
What fans can't cop is being taken for granted. It's how a large chunk of the faithful feel at the moment and, more than high-tackle crackdowns or blowout scores, it's got them switching off.
A backyard barbecue in lockdown isn't exactly the crime of the century, just like that bloke who was waiting for a mate didn't seem to be hurting anyone.
It's a bit of a giggle ... until you look at the broader picture and remind yourself of the clear and obvious fact that driving a car inebriated does put lives at risk.
Sometimes things appear harmless, but you've got to pan out a bit to see how things really are.