Cronulla’s team doctor, George Pitsis, predicts Paul Gallen will miss around 6 weeks after injuring his ankle in the Sharks’ 18-12 loss to the Titans.
THE ASADA investigation into banned drug use at Cronulla has been narrowed down to four members of the 2011 team, who are set to be issued with show cause notices by the end of this month.
Well-placed sources have confirmed the first wave of action against Sharks players is imminent – more than a year after Cronulla was identified as the club at the centre of ASADA’s probe into the NRL. It is not known whether show cause notices are being prepared for any of the dozens of players from rival clubs who were interviewed last year.
ASADA interviewed around 20 players who were part of Cronulla’s 2011 squad, which an internal investigation found was treated with peptide injections, creams and tablets over an 11-week period. ASADA also possessed evidence suggesting selected Sharks players remained in private contact with the two men who allegedly engineered and executed the program – sports scientist Stephen Dank and supplement salesman Darren Hibbert. Both Dank and Hibbert have denied giving players banned substances.
It is not known whether action against Cronulla players will be limited to the quartet. From the NRL’s perspective at least, there has been a long-held sense of compassion for Sharks players whose lone connection to the probe may have come from obeying the direction of their coaching staff.
ASADA cannot make such distinctions. If the anti-doping watchdog believes there is enough evidence of banned drug use against any player – no matter what the circumstances – it will order the NRL to issue an infraction notice.
However, ASADA must first issue a show cause notice directly to any player it intends to charge. The show cause notice is a preliminary procedural step, which gives recipients have the opportunity to argue why they should not be placed on ASADA’s register of findings and charged with a doping offence.
Should an athlete decide to challenge ASADA’s process, their case will be heard in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Unsuccessful challenges to the AAT can be appealed to the Federal Court. Both the AAT and Federal Court generally suppress the names of athletes who challenge show cause notices, although the proceedings themselves can be made public. Athletes are generally permitted to continue competing while their challenges are being heard.
Suspensions would not take effect until the NRL issued an infraction notice, which occurs when the player either accepts the show cause notice or exhausts their appeal avenues to the AAT and Federal Court.
Two weeks ago, ASADA boss Aurora Andruska indicated closure to the 13-month investigation was imminent, telling a Senate Estimates Committee that the evidence gathering phase was over.
Andruska revealed briefs of evidence were being prepared in relation to each player interviewed. Show cause notices will only be generated if the briefs contain enough evidence to support a charge, with former Federal Court judge Garry Downes engaged to make the final call on each individual.
The Daily Telegraph has been told that ASADA now believes there’s sufficient evidence to issue notices to four members of Cronulla’s 2011 squad. Recent reports have suggested up to 12 members of Essendon’s 2012 list are also in the firing line.
Solicitor Richard Redman – who represents nine Sharks players who were interviewed last year – declined to comment when contacted last night. Sources close to the Sharks claim the players have heard nothing from ASADA since October last year.
NRL boss Dave Smith also declined to comment, stating the step of issuing show cause notices was a decision for ASADA.