Shattered Parramatta centre Michael Jennings has vowed to clear his name after he was stood down for testing positive to performance-enhancing substances.
The Eels’ were rocked just 12 hours out from their semi-final against South Sydney on Saturday morning, when Jennings was provisionally stood down by the NRL.
Jennings received the knock on the door from Sports Integrity Australia at around 7am, before the club learned of his news almost immediately after.
It’s alleged the 32-year-old tested positive to both Ligandrol and Ibutamoren on September 21, both of which are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Ligandrol is the same drug Australian swimmer Shayna Jacks famously tested positive to last year and has since denied knowingly taking.
The drug is used to build and repair muscles while Ibutamoren also boosts growth hormone levels, with both consumed orally.
But in a statement on Saturday, Jennings insisted he was innocent.
“I am totally against any form of cheating in sport and am completely shocked to find myself in this position. I will do everything I can to clear my name,” it read.
“I have dedicated the last 14 years of my life to playing in the NRL.
“I would never do anything to jeopardise my standards, my reputation, or the legacy I leave, especially for my son.”
“I am completely shattered that I won’t be able to play with my team tonight. We have worked so hard to get where we are.
“I have every faith in the boys and wish them the best.
“This is a really difficult time for me and my family, but I will work with Sports Integrity Australia to progress this case and clear my name.”
The popular player has been offered welfare support by the NRL, Eels and players’ union, while he can also have his B-sample analysed.
But regardless, it leaves the former NSW and Australia Test centre’s career in the balance just a week out from what could have been his 300th NRL game.
Jennings also returned positive tests to metabolites of the two drugs, with the offence carrying a four-year ban.
The Eels were shocked by the news on Saturday morning.
Jennings remains a senior figure in their squad and had only been re-signed until the end of 2021 earlier this season.
He was made available to media recently as this week and spoke openly on how he was trying to fix his team’s backline defensive woes.
His absence comes at the worst possible time for the club.
They are already without wingers Blake Ferguson and Maika Sivo for Saturday night’s semi-final, with Haze Dunster set to debut in a makeshift backline.
His brother George Jennings will also have to play with the drama in the background, having been recalled for Sivo.
That could prove particularly daunting, with the Rabbitohs having run rampant on the edges in recent weeks.
The incident is the second drugs scandal to hit the NRL in 2020, with Cronulla centre Bronson Xerri fighting to clear his name after being stood down in May.
Former NRL hooker James Segeyaro is also fighting to clear his name after returning a positive sample to Ligandrol last year.