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Souths players vow nude FaceTime allegations won't derail their season

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 4 days ago Andrew Webster
Focus: The Rabbitohs have vowed not to be distracted by the anonymous allegations against one of their players. © Steven Siewert Focus: The Rabbitohs have vowed not to be distracted by the anonymous allegations against one of their players.

At a team meeting on Friday morning, teammates rallied around the high-profile player at the centre of Souths' FaceTime nude pic scandal and expressed concern for his partner.

They also made a vow that the drama that had suddenly engulfed them wouldn’t derail their season, starting with Saturday night’s semi-final against St George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium.

It’s a match the Rabbitohs were expected to easily win against a Dragons side ravaged by injury.

Now, it will be intriguing to see how Souths – and the player involved – handle the pressure and innuendo that will shadow them for the rest of the finals and beyond.

An anonymous woman alleges the player bombarded her with unwanted calls and then unwanted explicit images from his hotel room following Souths’ 30-10 win over the Warriors in Auckland in round 12.

The player was adamant that he would take the field despite the allegations that have been levelled at him.

Meanwhile, punters aren't reading too much into it. Betting markets haven't moved, with Souths still short-priced favourites to progress to next Saturday's preliminary final against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium.

Souths coach Anthony Seibold was the only member of the club to put his head above the parapet on Friday, deflecting questions like a media pro ahead of the side’s final training session.

“The first I knew about it was yesterday afternoon,” he said. “My instant reaction was that it’s a little bit of chaos. It’s not ideal. They’re professional athletes and I’m a professional coach. That’s our job. We’ve got to make sure we have a really confident session this morning and in the team meeting room. It’s led by me … it’s not ideal these accusations have come out. I can just control what happens in the change room and on the field this morning.”

After the training session, the players – including the player – laughed with supporters and signed autographs. Crisis? What crisis?

Just a week ago, this column praised Souths for their professionalism and the standard they had set for themselves in the last two years under their charter “The Rabbitoh Way”.

They were apparently everything the Bulldogs were not in the wake of that club’s Mad Monday shenanigans.

Now, Souths stand accused of something worse: that players flashed a young woman during a FaceTime conversation.

For their part, Souths are comfortable with how they have handled the matter.

They say they had no idea who the woman was, or which players were involved, until this week.

An anonymous email, from a Gmail account, hit the club’s general enquires inbox in late May from a woman claiming she had been in a conversation with several members of the team after making initial contact with a senior player via his Instagram account.

The woman alleges she later received several unwanted calls from the senior player, who allegedly flashed his penis before another player then flashed his backside. The woman took screenshots.

Her first email to Souths was forwarded on to football operations manager Brock Schaefer, who called a Japanese number she had provided but it went unanswered.

“Our Club Code of Conduct is one of the strongest in the game and we put significant effort and resources into helping develop good people as well as good athletes,” he replied in an email. “At this stage, it’s difficult from your email to assess the nature of the incident described however we certainly take your email seriously and will work to understand what has occurred.”

The club claims that her two subsequent emails, which were also anonymous, dropped into Schaefer’s junk mail folder and that’s why the matter was never followed up – because he didn’t know they were there.

There’s an old saying that the cover-up is often worse than the crime. But Souths’ excuse is entirely plausible even if it sounds convenient.

The NRL dished out a record $250,000 fine to the Bulldogs for trashing the game’s image in the first week of the finals for poor player behaviour that only came to light because a private function was strategically photographed by a media outlet. It also attracted not a single complaint from the public.

The allegations levelled at Souths are murky but could be seen as troubling: that players sent nude images to a woman who didn’t want to see them – and then the club failed to address her complaints.

With $250,000 the new benchmark, where will that leave Souths if any of this is proven?

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