Cronulla players and officials believe former head trainer Trent Elkin has informed the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency about the drug and supplements program which was in place during his time at the NRL club.
Sources have told Fairfax Media that Elkin, who finished his tenure at the club last year to take up a position at Parramatta, met with ASADA recently. It is understood players and officials are furious at Elkin.
When contacted by Fairfax Media, Elkin refused to comment about any matter regarding his involvement with the Sharks.
Cronulla players are believed to be considering legal action if they are suspended for inadvertently taking performance-enhancing substances.
Up to 14 Sharks players are understood to have been offered six-month bans if they plead guilty to using prohibited drugs. But it is understood they argued that if they had taken drugs, they did so unknowingly. It is unclear whether former Cronulla players now at other clubs have been offered the same deal, which would save them from the usual two-year bans handed down to athletes testing positive to performance-enhancing drugs.
Fairfax Media has been told Sharks players were given Thymosin Beta 4 and CJC-1295 peptides during the 2011 season.
It is understood the products were not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list at the time but both were included in the Australian Crime Commission report into doping and match fixing under the heading “Performance and Image Enhancing Substances”.
If the players were to be suspended, Fairfax Media was told the players might sue the club, claiming to have been told the substances were legal. A source told Fairfax Media the players could claim the Sharks had a duty of care for them while they were employed by the club.
If they were suspended for six months, the players would not only miss the majority of this season but there was a risk their long-term careers would be severely damaged. The players would also lose 50 per cent of their contract money for the year as Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority guidelines prevent the payment to athletes suspended for drugs use.
Cronulla officials will also come under scrutiny over the decision to hire controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank and the level of autonomy he was given at the club.
Dank is at the centre of the ASADA investigation into AFL club Essendon and similar allegations about the use of peptides by their players and has been interviewed twice by the ACC. He has denied any wrongdoing, and Fairfax Media has been told there are allegations against another member of the Sharks’ off-field staff over the use of performance-enhancing substances by players.
The ACC report described CJC-1295 as a growth hormone releasing peptide and “one of the principal peptides identified by the ACC and ASADA as being misused in both professional sports and the broader population”.
Thymosin Beta 4 is used to aid injury recovery and is described in the ACC report as “not regulated”. It is used extensively for performance enhancement in horses.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan shut the media out of training on Wednesday and could not be contacted afterwards.
However, it is understood he does not anticipate any changes to the side he named on Tuesday to host Gold Coast in Sunday night’s opening round fixture.
A statement posted on the Cronulla website on Wednesday night 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 prioritise 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.”