Rising young Knights winger Starford To'a has been cleared of a COVID breach and will play against Manly on Sunday with Knights coach Adam O'Brien admitting he was fortunate to be let off by the NRL.
To'a and housemate Simi Sasagi were put on COVID hold on Sunday night and were under investigation by the NRL Integrity Unit after they attended a local league game that day at Harker Oval between Western Suburbs and Central Newcastle.
It was widely expected both players would be forced into isolation, stood down for two weeks and face fines for breaking bio-security protocols. But after going through an extensive interviewing process and convincing NRL officials their actions at no point put them at risk of being infected, they were cleared.
A relieved O'Brien conceded both To'a and Sasagi and the club had got lucky with the outcome but welcomed the wake-up call at a time when the NRL has been forced to act on some high-profile breach cases.
"I definitely think we are fortunate [they got off] and I think the players do themselves," he said. "When that was explained to them, yeah, it's a close encounter for them. It's a close encounter for all of us. It's just another reminder to respect our responsibilities.
"They [the COVID rules] are there for a reason. It's tough but at the end of the day, so is not having a competition and not being able to play each weekend with your teammates.
"That's a luxury and if we've got to stick by the rules, we've got to stick by the rules."
O'Brien said the players had traveled to the local footy game with the intention of watching from their car.
But with no cars allowed in the ground, they still chose to go in.
"That's probably where the error of judgement happened," he said. "They thought standing away from everybody behind the goalposts was going to be okay.
"There was no exchanging of money at the gate with anybody, there was none of that. So there was no risk but once the cars weren't permitted, that is when they needed to turn around."
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O'Brien was understandably fuming when he first heard of the possible breach on Sunday night but said he hadn't been made aware of all the facts.
"I think the reason why the Apollo group has cleared them is some more facts and realities have come to light," he said. "The risk was non-existent to catching the virus. Would I have liked them to have made a better decision - yep, in hindsight.
"Do I understand young men are going to make poor decisions - yeah I do. To put things in perspective, there are 19 and 20-year-old young men making way worse decisions every day however they don't get the luxury of living the life our two young blokes do.
"Them understanding their responsibility and making better decisions, I'd like that to be better. We probably got a couple of free lessons over the weekend we needed to be mindful of. Whether young blokes are across all that in the news - obviously not."
O'Brien said the players have learned a lesson.
"They are two young guys that are rattled by it at the moment," he said.
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