At least six Brisbane Broncos were spotted in a popular Sydney pub the night before their history-making 58-0 loss at the hands of Parramatta on Sunday, Foxsports.com.au can reveal.
Eyewitnesses confirmed Broncos players Matt Gillett, Andrew McCullough, Payne Haas, David Fifita, Corey Oates and Anthony Milford were all at Harpoon Harry’s hotel near Sydney’s Oxford Street until late on Saturday night.
The players congregated in the pub’s pokies room, where Fifita stayed playing the machines alone, after the rest of his teammates left the venue around 11pm.
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There is no suggestion any of the players were drinking alcohol but less than 24 hours after their visit to Harpoon Harry’s, the Broncos were handed a 58-0 thrashing by the Eels, the biggest losing margin in any final since 1908.
A pub patron who sat next to Milford as he played the pokies asked him what time he was playing the next day.
“I knew the game started at 4pm but Milford turned to me and said: ‘I think it’s at six, eh’. He wasn’t taking the piss, he was dead set,” the source said, showing perhaps how little the player cared.
On Tuesday evening the Broncos issued their response and although the club indicated the players “should have been more professional” they stopped short of issuing any sanctions but ominously promised the incident would be looked at in their end of season review.
“In relation to media reports on the actions of Broncos team members on Saturday night, the club has spoken to a number of players,” the statement read.
“We understand that a small number were playing poker machines at a venue close to the team hotel.
“Others called in for a short period on their way back to the team hotel from the shops.
“There is no suggestion the players were drinking, and our entire squad presented at a team breakfast at 7am the next morning.
“Players aren’t confined to the team hotel on away trips once their team commitments including dinner, team meeting and sports massage have been completed.
“Over many years, the club has placed trust in the playing group to do the right thing in regard to their pre-game preparation.
“Given the players were about to play their biggest game of the year, they should have been more professional in their actions.
“The club will take this into consideration during the end of year review process currently underway.”
The players involved were among the poorest performers in a team that arrived at BankWest Stadium clearly not ready to play.
The backrow of Fifita and Gillett managed just 103 metres between them and Fifita produced two handling errors. In contrast, Eels forward Daniel Alvaro ran for 197 metres. Tepai Moeroa, who came off the bench, ran for 156 metres and scored a try.
It is another blackeye to the proud NRL club which on Monday announced a widespread review of its football operations on the same day reports emerged Darius Boyd is likely to be stripped of the captaincy.
Milford and star rake Andrew McCullough have reportedly been told they’re on their last warning at the club, while star utility Jack Bird is also reportedly facing an uncertain future at the club.
A star on the rise when the Broncos courted him from Canberra the 25-year-old has struggled to deliver on the promise he once showed of late.
The revelation of the players’ decision to go out the night before their elimination final has come at a terrible time for the club after rugby league legend Paul Vautin suggested on Monday night the players had stopped playing for coach Anthony Seibold.
The Courier-Mail reports the players spotted at the Sydney watering hole snuck out of the team hotel on Saturday night without getting permission from Broncos management.
The report claims Broncos’ officials first heard about the incident when contacted by reporters on Tuesday.
Chief rugby league reporter for The Courier-Mail Pete Badel wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the Broncos have launched an investigation into the pub visit.
“Brisbane hierarchy have confirmed several senior players broke camp to play pokies and have launched an investigation,” Badel posted.
“Broncos will release a statement shortly. Players left the team hotel without the knowledge of coach Anthony Seibold.”
Club legends Shane Webcke, Trevor Gillmeister, Kevin Walters and Glenn Lazarus have all applied the blowtorch to the once-feared NRL powerhouse since their infamous defeat.
Gillmeister said the loss was “one of the worst I’ve ever seen,’’ Walters described it as “very humiliating,” while Lazarus said he “didn’t appreciate the lack of desire, lack of pride in the jersey” and believes coach Seibold doesn’t “take enough responsibility”.
It comes as Broncos CEO Paul White wrote a grovelling apology to the club’s members, pledging to fix things with an exhaustive review. White’s decision-making was called out by club co-founder Barry Maranta, particularly in awarding Seibold a five-year contract.
“The front office of a major franchise has a responsibility to provide a base for the coaching staff and from what I can see, the challenge is not being met at the Broncos,” Maranta said.
“I can’t imagine giving a coach a five-year deal. It’s the sort of business decision that would not have happened under our watch.
“Most businesses today would not sign a coach or CEO for five years. You have to have certain KPIs (trial Performance Indicators) to earn a contract of that length.”
Reports have also emerged that Boyd’s captaincy is under threat and that he and McCullough have been told to find new clubs — while $1 million man Milford is on his last chance.
The Broncos have been contacted for comment.