Canterbury Bulldogs winger Jayden Okunbor is reportedly set to be axed by the club for allegedly having sex with a schoolgirl on a pre-season trip to Port Macquarie.
Okunbor planned to meet up the teenager after visiting her school on club duties, according to deleted messages between the pair.
The Bulldogs’ pending decision on the futures of the pair comes following the release of an Instagram exchange between Okunbor and one of the girls.
It is reported that Okunbor is expected to be dumped by Canterbury, although teammate Corey Harawira-Naea will be spared the sack.
The pair have been suspended from playing and training after breaching the NRL and Canterbury’s code of conduct.
Since details of the scandal broke, family restaurant chain Rashays, which was close to signing off on a $2 million sponsorship deal with the club, has since pulled out over what they labelled a “repulsive” incident.
Okunbor was at a Bulldogs school visit to Newman Senior Technical College to promote rugby league and connected with one of the students on Instagram.
Harawira-Naera met a girl from the same school at her after school job and they later connected on social media.
Neither player is under criminal investigation but they have been issued show cause notices by the NRL.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg saidL “Our players have no greater social responsibility than promoting respect for women,”
“Part of being a first-grade player is being a role model. Respect for women is a fundamental aspect of our training courses from rookies to elite players.
“That’s why we took immediate action in provisionally suspending both players allegedly involved in the matters under investigation.
“We didn’t hide behind the investigation. The Bulldogs and the NRL made the decision to proactively stand down the players to send a very clear message that allegations of this nature are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
“Conduct of this nature breaches every aspect of what we stand for as a game. Rest assured, if these breaches are sustained the players will face significant sanctions which will both meet community expectation and send a message to every single player in our game.
“Our game has been commended internationally for the work we do, not only in Australia but throughout the Pacific, in educating and promoting respect for women. We will continue to do more and more in this sphere and we will act swiftly on any player who does not meet those expectations.”
The Bulldogs conducted an internal review of the incidents over the weekend after it was brought to their attention on Friday.
They announced on Tuesday that Harawira-Naera and Okunbor would be stood down before their squad was named for round one.
The club issued a statement on Wednesday to say the “the breaches do relate to players bringing young females of a consensual age back to the team hotel”.
Earlier on Wednesday, Bulldogs CEO Andrew Hill said the suspended duo would not attend training sessions until investigations were completed.
“I think it’s clear they’ve breached their obligations,” Hill said.
“They’re not behaviour or values that are reflective of this football club. We need to respect that process and the people involved in that process. There’s a number of sensitivity matters around this.
“There’s an investigation under process, I’m not in a position to make further comment. The club has acted swiftly.”
Hill was adamant no further players were involved but couldn’t discuss the situation any further when pressed.
Bulldogs coach Dean Pay conceded the investigation had put a dent in the squad’s morale before their season opener against the Eels on Thursday night.
Both players were expected to be named in Pay’s starting line-up after solid performances last year, while the club had worked hard on its reputation following the Mad Monday scandal in 2018.
“It’s difficult, there’s challenges to it but the positive is Joe Stimson gets his first start for the club, Dean Britt gets a start and Christian Crichton gets a game,” Pay said.
“They’ll be ready. For us, we’ve got a game to play and that’s what we’re concentrating on. We’ve got on with what we’ve needed to get on with, that’s where we’re at.
“It’s challenging but if there’s one thing I know they’ll do is they’ll stick together.”
Pay has opted for Fijian international Brandon Wakeham in the halves over Jack Cogger to start the season after a strong showing in the trials.
“There wasn’t much between him and Jack, we just decided to go with Brandon,” Pay said.
“Brandon brings a little bit more … he plays what’s in front of him and is a little bit more aggressive in attack.”
Canterbury upset the Eels 12-6 at Bankwest Stadium in the corresponding game last year. They’re yet to lose at the venue.
“I’m still looking for it, the rivalry is still there,” Pay said.
“We want to do well and put a really big performance in.”