Wayne Bennett faces a two-week ban from the NRL after he broke the league’s strict COVID-19 biosecurity protocols.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs coach dined at the popular Italian restaurant, Grappa, in Leichhardt on Wednesday for lunch with a woman believed to be his girlfriend.
The outing was in direct violation of strict protocols prohibiting NRL players, staff and coaches from leaving the ‘bubble’ created to keep the game going amid the COVID-19 crisis.
A patron who was also dining at the restaurant reportedly flagged his presence to the media, The Daily Telegraph reported.
The veteran coach was part of the Project Apollo committee – which helped to create the biosecurity protocols ahead of the NRL restart.
The rules state any person who is a part of the NRL bubble must not attend cafes, restaurants, pubs or clubs.
He told reporters after his club’s training session on Thursday he didn’t realise he was in violation of the rules.
‘I went for lunch yesterday at Grappa yesterday, I did. I didn’t think it was a breach… If I knew it was a breach I wouldn’t have done it,’ he told news.com.au.
‘I went with my partner who I live with, had some lunch and that was it. I go shopping, I go different places to get meals at times, it was just me and my partner who I live together with, she was with me and I went somewhere to get something to eat at lunchtime.’
Bennett is expected to meet with the NRL integrity unit to discuss the reported incident.
His team will come head-to-head with his former club, the Brisbane Broncos, in a grudge match on Friday night.
Depending on the outcome of his meeting, Bennett may not be able to attend the match.
He will likely be forced to enter a two-week self-isolation and undergo testing to ensure he was not exposed to coronavirus.
Bennett said he would accept any sanctions handed down.
‘If that’s what happens, that’s their call. The rules have changed that many times about what we can do and can’t do,’ he said.
‘The protocols are changing all the time. At times I have been out when I thought it was right. I still thought it was right yesterday.’
Queensland closed the border to all Sydneysiders last week and from Saturday, anybody from New South Wales will be banned from entering the Sunshine State to stem the spread of the virus.
But the premier extended an olive branch to the NRL, permitting players and staff to enter the state to play, so long as strict biosecurity measures were upheld in New South Wales.
Grappa will not comment on individual patrons who visited the restaurant.
Bennett’s last known relationship was with Dale Cage, who was 16 years his junior.
The couple reportedly separated in 2018, two years after they left their respective marriages and pursued a relationship.