Rugby league has been thrown into chaos on the eve of the season after speculation Cronulla were to become the first big victim of the Australian Crime Commission’s investigation into drugs in sport. Up to 14 players are believed to have been told they are facing a minimum six-month ban.
Fairfax Media understands the players have received legal advice suggesting they admit to taking performance-enhancing drugs in the hope of avoiding longer suspensions. It is understood the players refused.
Devastated Sharks officials are resigned to being without a host of star players for the season, some of whom could be suspended before their season-opening match against the Gold Coast on Sunday.
Bookmakers suspended betting on the game amid speculation Cronulla were negotiating with Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority officials to cut a deal which would result in bans of just six months. Eight players from other clubs have also been implicated. The NRL refused to comment.
Sharks insiders believe a former staffer has turned whistleblower on the Shire club, one of six rugby league teams named in the ACC’s report into the integrity of Australian sport, alongside Newcastle, Manly, Penrith, Canberra and the North Queensland Cowboys.
ASADA officials interviewed staff from the club during the week and are expected to continue their inquiries in the coming days. Sharks players, some accompanied by their agents, were summoned to a meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the situation. Coach Shane Flanagan cancelled media engagements and a planned store appearance as the club locked down. Wednesday’s training session was held behind locked doors.
There were reports an emergency Sharks board meeting was called on Wednesday night to decide the club’s fate but club spokesman Rob Willis denied this.
The Cronulla club operates without a chief executive, and its chairman, Damian Irvine, is overseas.
It is understood the focus of ASADA’s investigations revolve around the time sports scientist Stephen Dank spent at the club in 2011. He was at Cronulla only a short while, falling out with team doctor Dave Givney. Sources said some players were concerned they were being investigated for their dealings with Dank after he left the club. Dank has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
”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 prioritise the integrity of our club and the welfare of our playing group,” the club said in a statement.
”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.”
An ASADA representative refused to comment on the latest developments and wouldn’t confirm the meetings with the Sharks.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.