NRL flags desire to test players’ hair for drugs after end-of-season incidents
The NRL wants to put hair follicle testing for illicit drugs back on the agenda as the issue comes back into sharp focus as the season concludes.
The NRL integrity unit yesterday interviewed Melbourne Storm pair Cameron Munster and Brandon Smith about a video of them partying in a hotel with what appears to be a white substance on a table. A second video has subsequently emerged, of a shirtless Munster dancing on a table top in the same week that New Zealand Warriors rookie fullback Reece Walsh confessed to using cocaine after being arrested by police on the Gold Coast over the weekend.
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the NRL and the Rugby League Players’ Association have agreed to review the game’s illicit drugs policy. One of the proposals head office is keen on tabling relates to hair follicle testing, which can detect substances like cocaine up to three months after ingestion.
Under standard urine testing, traces of cocaine usually disappear after between one and four days. The AFL uses hair testing as a detection tool rather than for sanctioning purposes, while hair testing of racing animals began in Queensland last year.
“We’re looking for hair testing and that is part of the consultation process,” ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys said. “Hair testing is the one that captures it for days or weeks or possibly months.”
The RLPA would need to agree to any changes in testing protocols for league players.
Brandon Smith and Cameron Munster in a room with white powder.
“We’re certainly not opposed to testing, as we’ve made it clear players are the only stakeholders in the game who do put their hand up to be tested,” said RLPA chief executive Clint Newton.
“It demonstrates that players are leaders in that space. They understand testing is necessary for a range of reasons including accountability, as well as helping and supporting players who put themselves in that type of situation.
“We haven’t had anything presented to us around hair testing. There are a number of challenges around that, but the door is always open to have that conversation around anything to do with this space.”
V’landys has long maintained that the NRL does not have an issue with drugs that is any greater than that of society in general. The testing evidence appears to back this up; earlier this year, the Herald reported that the number of positive tests provided is less than one per cent.
Under the current illicit drugs policy, players are afforded three strikes; a warning for first offenders, a 12-match ban for a second strike and deregistration for a third.
Privately, some clubs are concerned about recent changes to the World Anti-Doping Agency code, where the ban for an out-of-competition positive test to “’substances of abuse” was cut from two years to one month if it isn’t deemed performance enhancing.
It’s why Brent Naden was available for selection for round one of 2021 despite testing positive to cocaine following a post-match drug test at last year’s grand final. Penrith imposed their own sanctions, including an additional one-month ban.
V’landys wouldn’t be drawn on the incident involving Melbourne players.
“These guys deserve due process and natural justice and I don’t want to corrupt the process by commenting,” V’landys said. “They need to give their side of the story, they could be totally innocent for all I know. We’ll let the integrity department investigate, like any other person they have the right to due process and natural justice.”
However, former Panthers forward Mark Geyer was critical of the Storm stars.
“It pisses me off on the biggest and best week of our calendar we are talking about off-field stuff,” Geyer told Triple M’s Rush Hour.
“How stupid to let someone in your inner sanctum have a camera out … every phone is loaded gun. It’s so selfish, they have let their club and fans down.”
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