The Sharks have stolen the headlines in the last 24 hours after landing Storm veteran Dale Finucane on a four-year, reported $2.5 million deal.
The news that most, if not all, Cronulla Sharks players have accepted the ASADA deal offered to them further darkens what former prime minister Julia Gillard described as the ‘darkest day’.
The former PM was foolish to cooperate with ASADA’s ill-conceived tactic of shock and awe. The intended outcome of players and officials turning on each other and confessing their sins demonstrates ASADA’s inexperience with dealing with true team sports.
The Cronulla players simply said nothing, admitted nothing and denied any impropriety. The fact that ASADA couldn’t prove anything without players’ admissions wasn’t lost on the players. ASADA was a lame duck.
Meanwhile, back at Shark Park, the players hadn’t been resting easy. They regularly highlighted the toll that the ASADA investigation was taking on the team because of the immense stress of scrutiny and threatened sanctions.
They were also very active in denying that they had taken any illegal substances, particularly captain Paul Gallen. So considering this claimed innocence and stress, why did the Cronulla Sharks players refuse to cooperate with ASADA?
Surely they would be keen to help sort out this terrible misunderstanding and protect their reputations. And surely the NRL would enforce this, as players have an obligation under the NRL’s policy on drugs to cooperate with investigations into the contravention of the drugs policy.
The ASADA deal puts a line under this scandal. The deal requires the players to admit they unwittingly ingested banned substances in exchange for a 12-month penalty that is backdated. Therefore the players will miss only three games of football on their way to the wooden spoon.
To be clear, the NRL’s drug policy has an obligation on players to ‘take responsibility for what they ingest or use’ and places further requirements on them when accepting medical treatment from others. It is indeed the players’ responsibility to know what they ingest.
The situation provides a convenient out for both ASADA, who can dish out penalties and justify their past two year’s of work, and the Cronulla Sharks players, who can claim they were naive but innocent victims and have no further threat of sanctions against them.
ASADA can wave the flag and claim victory. The players can move on with life with a clean slate. Few could doubt it’s a win-win deal for ASADA and the players – except maybe Paul Gallen.
Gallen was a fierce competitor for a decade before 2011. But make no mistake, it was 2011 that propelled Gallen into stardom and to legendary status. Who can forget the tale of his heroic 2011 State of Origin performance? The prop forward played the full 80 minutes without being interchanged, winning him man of the match and tying the series 1-1. Glenn Lazarus described the performance as ‘unheard of’.
It is now clear how Paul Gallen achieved this feat. With his legend status at stake, it is no wonder that Gallen was the staunchest resistor of the ASADA investigation. Even recently, Paul Gallen was signalling to the other players his intention to continue as usual and not give in to the ASADA pressure.
But the other players have less to lose – and Gallen cannot go it alone against ASADA.
History is written by the victors. ASADA will have dished out a dozen year-long bans after a thorough and professional investigation. The unwitting multi-million dollar players were duped by those ruthless club officials and medical staff.
Paul Gallen’s backdated ban cannot remove him from being the 2014 Origin-winning captain, prevent him getting future media deals or rewrite the heroic tales of his 80 minutes. In fact, NRL boss Dave Smith has already claimed that “the punishment fits the crime” and that he thinks “we have managed the process pretty well so far”.
The truth is that our darkest day has just gotten a whole lot darker. Without the truth shining down and without appropriate punishments being enforced, poor old rugby league is the loser once again.