The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority wants to interview 31 National Rugby League players over the next four to six weeks "as part of its investigation into alleged drug use in the sport," according to Dan Baynes of BLOOMBERG. NRL CEO Dave Smith said that "clubs were no longer the subject of investigations regarding systematic doping, outside of the probe into practices at the Sydney-based Cronulla Sharks" in '11. Smith: "ASADA has informed the NRL that aside from some well-documented concerns at Cronulla, its clear focus is now on whether individuals -- or groups of individuals -- may have acted outside of club programs. This is not about clubs. The fact that ASADA will issue notices of interview does not mean players or officials are being charged" (BLOOMBERG, 3/20). In Sydney, Read & Honeysett wrote NRL players at the center of the ongoing ASADA investigation "could be stood down or deregistered for breaching the game's code of conduct should they refuse to comply with interview requests." In yet another blow for the sport, "the NRL could begin issuing infraction notices and start hearings against players suspected of doping in the middle of this year's State of Origin series, a move that would overshadow one of the game's showpieces" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 3/21). The AAP reported about 10 former players will also be part of the ASADA investigation, "though the NRL is powerless to punish any players not registered with the code" (AAP, 3/21).
CALL ME, MAYBE? In Sydney, Josh Massoud wrote ASADA directly contacted "two current players earlier this week to arrange formal interviews." One player representing the Sharks and the other the Canberra Raiders, were both "contacted via their mobile phones," in contrast to how Smith and Australian Rugby League Commission Chair John Grant outlined ASADA interviews would be requested at Wednesday's press conference (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3/21). Also in Sydney, Stuart Honeysett wrote several NRL clubs said that they felt vindicated after ASADA "revealed the target of its investigation was rogue players who had acted outside of club programs." Penrith, Canberra and North Queensland "went public with their feelings after they were outed alongside Cronulla, Manly and Newcastle in an Australian Crime Commission report." Penrith exec GM Phil Gould said, "We were confident right from day one that as a club Panthers never had any cause for concern regarding this matter. Today's acknowledgment from NRL chief executive Dave Smith simply vindicates those long-held beliefs." The Raiders issued a statement Wednesday "claiming that the matter had been poorly handled by the ACC when it released its report in February and that the club's brand had suffered." Canberra CEO Don Furner said, "Canberra has always had complete confidence in its football operations and this includes a strong commitment against drugs" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 3/21).
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: In Sydney, Adrian Proszenko wrote Manly has hit out at ASADA "after being cleared of systemic doping, claiming the 'ridiculous' decision to name the club as part of its investigation has done untold damage to the Sea Eagles brand." Aside from Cronulla, "the spotlight has shone most brightly on Manly, which employed controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank" between '06 and '10. Manly board spokesperson Phil Sidney said, "We've got sponsors and fans and we've had to go into defensive mode. For the club to be named before they have any justification for doing that is quite ridiculous" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 3/21).
HUSH MONEY: In a seperate article, Massoud wrote "Cronulla's board offered at least one member of its four sacked coaching staff hush money when his employment was terminated nearly a fortnight ago." Former trainer Mark Noakes "was tempted with an additional one month payout of his salary in return for refraining from any public comment about his dismissal and years of service to the club." He rejected the offer and has since given several interviews "expressing his anger at the board's actions" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3/21). In Sydney, Andrew Webster wrote, "Of greater significance was the revelation from league bosses Dave Smith and John Grant that alleged systematic use has only allegedly occurred at Cronulla, meaning players or groups of players have acted independently at other clubs." In other words, the other five clubs named in the ACC report -- Manly, Canberra, Penrith, Newcastle and North Queensland -- "have been dragged through the mud for no good reason." Their coaching staffs, their officials, and most of their players "with the possible exception of some rogue elements are all in the clear." Presumably, "an apology to these people will be coming some time soon ..." (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3/21).