Sharks players under scrutiny as ASADA closes in

Greg Prichard Columnist

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    The Cronulla Sharks take on the Canberra Raiders in the battle for the wooden spoon. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Grant Trouville)

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    People who thought the drugs in the NRL story was a beat-up must surely be thinking differently now.

    The revelations of massive drama at Cronulla, where, it has been reported, as many as 14 players have been encouraged to accept six-month bans for the use of performance-enhancing drugs following an investigation, might be just the start of it.

    You would think the Sharks and/or the NRL will hold a media conference today in an attempt to give the league world at least some sort of understanding of what is going on, since the competition kicks off tonight and Cronulla are due to play their first game on Sunday.

    When the report of the Australian Crime Commission’s investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in football codes and links to organised crime was released last month, it never meant there was going to be a quick outcome to investigations.

    These things take time, but because there were no names named and no-one’s head was on a plate after a week or two, some people thought it was safe to start rubbishing it.

    We are not going to realise the full impact and learn most of the outcomes of the various investigations for a while, but developments at Cronulla, where former ASADA senior counsel Richard Redman was hired to advise the club, show it is all very real.

    The heads of all the football codes have been fully briefed on the ongoing investigations by ASADA and the ACC, and we haven’t heard any of them downplay the importance of the whole thing.

    NSW Sport Minister Graham Annesley was quoted saying the briefing he received from the ACC painted a picture that was “serious” and “scary”.

    ASADA is obviously investigating the possible use of performance-enhancing drugs, and the ACC is investigating possible links between organised crime and sport. Such investigations cover a lot of ground and take a lot of time, and the people conducting the investigations don’t provide blow-by-blow descriptions for the benefit of us.

    Anyway, it was made clear from the start that names couldn’t be named because of legal reasons. Obviously, if players are banned or people are charged, we will have names then.

    When there isn’t evidence via positive drug tests of competitors having used performance-enhancing drugs, investigators go down other paths, and ASADA is able to use discounts on suspensions as a sort of bargaining tool for information.

    If you have used performance-enhancing drugs and you help with the investigation, you might get a six-month ban instead of two years.

    It’s the sort of option that can break up a group and convince individuals to look after themselves.

    Or you can admit to nothing and roll the dice on whether you will be caught or not.

    Suggestions that players could take legal action against their clubs, if they were banned for using performance-enhancing drugs they consider were taken inadvertently under supposedly legal club programs, don’t appear to carry any weight.

    It is accepted that competitors are ultimately responsible for whatever they put into their body.

    We obviously don’t know the extent of the evidence ASADA and the ACC have got, but we do know they have been out there collecting it for a while now. Police used phone taps when they were investigating the NRL betting scandal, so you have got to assume they have done the same thing here.

    And there are always people out there who have seen and know things, and might want to get the information off their chest for whatever reason. Whistle-blowers have proven to be the mortal enemy of cheats in rugby league over the years.

    But it wouldn’t be rugby league if there wasn’t some sort of drama enveloping the game. On one hand you’ve got the Roosters-Rabbitohs blockbuster on tonight, with the return of Sonny Bill Williams, and on the other hand you’ve got this.

    It really is the game that keeps giving.

    Greg Prichard
    Greg Prichard

    Greg Prichard has spent all of his working life in the media, from way back when journalists were still using typewriters. He has covered rugby league, football, AFL and various other sports for News Limited and Fairfax newspapers and also worked for magazines, radio and pay television. Twitter: @gregprichard

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