Bulldogs great and commentator Graeme Hughes
Bulldogs great and commentator Graeme Hughes News Corp

Monday madness to Coffs Harbour controversy

Rugby league:

The Canterbury Bulldogs pre-season camp of infamy here in Coffs Harbour in 2004 has again made national headlines after the NRL club was fined for its Mad Monday celebrations.

Questions are again being asked about events surrounding that infamous preseason camp, 14 years ago that led to a police investigation into sexual assault allegations made against players.

This follows a bitter row involving Bulldogs great Graeme Hughes and respected league journalist Phil Rothfield on Fox Sports' Controversy Corner over the media's role in uncovering NRL scandals.

Hughes, a long-time rugby league commentator, questioned why it was necessary to photograph the club's Mad Monday celebrations this season.

He was not alone, with retired ref Bill Harrigan kicking off the conversation by asking Rothfield directly: "Why do you have to get a photo, Buzz?"

Rothfield's argument, of course, was public interest.


Veteran league journalist Phil Buzz Rothfield.
Veteran league journalist Phil Buzz Rothfield. News Corp

But, when Hughes interjected with "how much was the public outraged", it became a no holds barred debate between the pair.

"You know what Heaps, players have been charged," Rothfield said.

"Because of the photographs," Hughes shot back.

"No, for exposing themselves... just hold on, the hotel has been hit with five infringement notices, and I will tell you another thing (NRL CEO) Todd Greenberg fined them $250,000 from what he saw on the CCTV footage."

Then the club sponsorship became the focus.

"They've lost a half a million dollar sponsor over this," Rothfield said.

But the debate turned nasty once Hughes brought up a Tweet from Rothfield during the week, which referred to the Coffs Harbour scandal stretching back to 2004.

"You've got how many Twitter followers, 80,000? And what did you write during the week?

"You wrote Graeme Hughes is the man who still thinks nothing happened in Coffs Harbour.

"Don't mention a club over a scandal that nobody's proved anything on... that was suggestive and the club deserves an apology."

Hughes has, in recent years, called on the NSW Police Force to apologise to the Bulldogs for the handling of the Coffs Harbour case, saying "players were put through hell in the court of public opinion with smears on their reputations that last to this day".

After the police investigation was made public, the club lost about $650,000 in sponsorship and was fined a further $500,000 by the NRL, with $350,000 of that suspended.

Club great Steve Mortimer, then Bulldogs CEO, resigned over the scandal and long-serving team manager Garry Hughes, brother of Graeme, was sacked.

No charges were ever laid against any of the players.

Just last month, the Bulldogs club hierarchy returned to Coffs Harbour to announce the club would start a MOU with the CRL in November creating pathways for Group 2 and Group 3 juniors to the Bulldogs' under-16s and U18s teams programs.

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