It was only a matter of time before the zero tolerance policy on drug use of a number of NRL Clubs would catch its first victim. And the dubious honour goes to the North Queensland Cowboys prop, Mitchell Sargent.

Yesterday the Cowboys tore up his contract after he tested positive to cocaine on Sunday after the club’s loss to the Newcastle Knights the previous night. He might count himself unlucky – Sunday was the first time the Cowboys have undertaken their own drug testing of players, and only three of the team of 17 or so players were tested.

Under the Cowboys zero tolerance policy, his fate was sealed once the test was confirmed. The news caps a dreadful season for the Cowboys – after making last year’s grand final, they are out of the race this year and their recent form has been dreadful.

Clearly the Australian Sports Anti Doping Authority is taking a particular interest in rugby league players – even though it had no role in the testing of Sargent.

If it wasn’t taking a particular, and very specific interest in rugby league players, why would officers of ASADA be knocking on the doors of senior players at five (yes five) in the morning requiring them to provide a sample immediately?

Despite the very carefully worded denials by ASADA, it is apparent the Authority is having a very detailed look at some clubs and players.

Sargent will escape a mandatory suspension because the test was not taken on a match day, or under the ASADA jurisdiction. But the NRL will have the right to decide whether or not to register him if another club offers him a contract in the future. That’s a grey area – and it will be interesting to watch how the NRL responds if the issue arises.

It is almost certain he would not have been caught but for the Cowboys quite recent decision to undertake its own testing. That raises the question whether the NRL needs to encourage all clubs to take a pro-active approach to testing players outside the ASADA testing regime.

Today’s front pages headlines in just about every newspaper in New South Wales and Queensland are hardly what rugby league needs – but the Cowboys deserve credit for bringing in their own testing regime. Surely every club needs to do the same?

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.