The extraordinary lengths to which the AFL has gone to protect the names of players caught using illegal substances is regarded with bewilderment in the NRL.
And it confirms that the NRL stance on drug use in not only tougher than that of the AFL, it is significantly more transparent… but it still lacks consistency.
The NRL has encouraged clubs to conduct their own testing outside the ASADA regime. Not all do, but the number who do has increased this year.
And, as far as I am aware, the NRL has never condoned anything remotely like the AFL’s “three strikes” policy on illegal drug use… and most certainly would not countenance court action to suppress the names of players caught using drugs, let alone initiate that action itself as the AFL has done.
When tests are conducted under the ASADA regime, the NRL then adopts the mandatory penalties ASADA imposes. But only three or four clubs have a policy under which any player found to be using illegal substances is instantly sacked.
The Cowboys have such a policy and that led to Mitchell Sargent having his contract torn up by the club after testing positive in a club test last week. So do the Broncos who have the toughest drug abuse regime in the game.
While the NRL leaves it to the clubs to handle disciplinary matters arising out of their own testing, it reserves the right to intervene if it believes the penalty is inadequate.
In recent years, just two first grade players – Sargent and the Sea Eagles Andrew Walker – have tested positive and been dealt with publicly. Several lower grade players have returned positive tests and there have been no attempts to suppress their names.
Despite the NRL taking a stronger stance on illegal drug use than that of the AFL, the CEO, David Gallop, wants all clubs to adopt a consistent approach when it comes to penalties and when that is achieved, the “three strikes” policy that one or two clubs still follow will be history.
The AFL position on disclosure has undoubtedly been driven by pressure from the AFL Players Association.
Fortunately, the NRL Players Association is much less influential than its AFL counterpart. And that alone is why the NRL will continue to have a more pro-active approach to dealing with substance abuse, and transparent disclosure, than the AFL.