The Cronulla Sharks were in disarray yesterday with reports that up to 14 players face suspensions for using banned drugs on the eve of Australia’s new National Rugby League (NRL) season.
The Sydney club said it was fully assisting an investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), which comes ahead of their opening game of this season against the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday.
Reports said that as many as 14 Sharks players had been accused of using prohibited drugs and offered bans of six months for admitting to having done so, rather than the maximum two-year suspension if later found guilty by ASADA’s investigators.
ASADA’s swoop comes after six NRL clubs were last month identified in a nationwide sports doping scandal revealed in a sweeping Australian Crime Commission investigation.
The inquiry found that use of banned drugs was common in several sports.
Cronulla, along with North Queensland, Penrith, Canberra, Newcastle and Manly, were mentioned in the commission’s damning report, which sent shockwaves through Australia.
Fairfax Media reported that Sharks players were allegedly given Thymosin Beta 4 and CJC-1295 peptides during the 2011 season.
News Limited newspapers said the players were told they had 48 hours to accept a six-month suspension if they used a banned drug — knowingly or otherwise — or later face a possible maximum two-year ban.
A statement on the Cronulla Web site said the club was fully assisting with the ASADA investigation.
“Sharks fans and all rugby league supporters can be assured the club has been very proactive in fully co-operating with ASADA, and taking other measures that prioritize the integrity of our club and the welfare of our playing group,” the statement said.
“While there are strict boundaries around what we can say while the ASADA investigation is ongoing, fans should be assured that as soon as there is an opportunity to provide further information we will do so,” it added.
The NRL reassured fans yesterday that the Sharks would take the field this weekend, and that the head body would support the club and its board throughout the ASADA investigation.
“We accept that the ongoing speculation around the ASADA investigation is causing incredible uncertainty for many in the game, particularly for Cronulla and its fans,” NRL chief executive Dave Smith said in a statement.
“The NRL is taking the ASADA investigation very seriously. It is an investigation that must be allowed to run its course and it is inappropriate for us to enter into speculation about what may be taking place. Let me make it very clear, however, the absolute majority of our players are doing the right thing and are great ambassadors for the game,” he added.