The players union has slammed the NRL’s target testing of Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Mann for illicit substances as a “witch hunt” and threatened to stop allowing the governing body to drug test players.
The Newcastle pair were made to provide samples to testers employed by the NRL after they were escorted out of a toilet on Saturday night. The incident is the subject of an integrity unit probe. Rugby League Players Association chief executive Clint Newton said there was no justification for Ponga and Mann to be tested, or for the matter to have been made public.
“We have serious questions about how this has unfolded and why a video of this kind – which the recording of is potentially illegal – has enough evidence to warrant target testing,” Newton said.
“There has been nothing random about how the policy has been applied in this instance. It’s not on the player to prove their innocence – we don’t live in a society where people are found guilty until proven otherwise, yet we seem to consistently want to do that in our game.
“What we have here is a witch hunt to validate the assumption of wrongdoing. An assumption is not enough for the integrity unit to target test players – it falls well below the required threshold.
“Maybe we need to kick the policy out the door and we won’t participate in it. In the upcoming CBA, we might just say we won’t participate and just leave it to ASADA [now Sport Integrity Australia].”
Kalyn Ponga was escorted out of a toilet cubicle.Credit:Getty
Newton described the process that led to the testing of Mann and Ponga as “completely flawed” and that the public had no right to know of their participation in it.
“In our view, this is an unmatched breach of confidentiality and an irrefutable abuse of a clear process set out in the NRL’s testing policy,” Newton said.
“The NRL talks about being critical of leaks in the game, but here’s an example of an unprecedented leak that unfairly and severely impacts the character of two players.
“It’s a massive breach of someone’s rights, let alone a player’s rights. Let’s not conflate the two things going on here. One is a club cultural or moral obligation to your team, whether you’re drinking whilst injured. That is separate to this. Those players are in a position where they are potentially judged off the back of them being filmed in a toilet.
‘It is an extraordinary breach of the [drug testing] policy.’
“The NRL’s own testing policy explicitly states that information collected from players remains confidential, including the identity of those to be tested. And here we are, with a running commentary of the testing process that relates to these two players. Are we fair dinkum?
“It’s the integrity unit which has the primary responsibility for maintaining the confidentiality of the testing process, but now we have names of players apparently tested made public now up for debate. It is an extraordinary breach of the policy.”
The NRL has flagged an interest in hair testing, which can detect substances in the system months after they have been ingested. That would require the agreement of the RLPA.
“Good luck with that. The answer is no,” Newton said. “Again, show me some evidence to suggest that’s the right approach. Are we developing a catch-and-kill, name-and-shame policy or are we actually developing a policy that’s for health and wellbeing purposes?”
Asked, during and NRLW announcement on Wednesday, if he feared drugs were involved in the toilet incident, NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said: “It’s not a concern that drugs were maybe involved.”
Meanwhile, Manase Fainu’s Manly teammates have been warned not to pay any more on-field tributes to the jailed former NRL player as the integrity unit investigates a try celebration from the club’s loss to the Titans. According to sources familiar with the situation, the squad was briefed about the issue after Haumole Olakau’atu appeared to imitate his hands being in cuffs after scoring a four-pointer on the weekend.
Fainu is in custody after a jury found him guilty of stabbing a youth leader outside a Mormon church dance in 2019. He will be sentenced later this year.
Fainu remains close with many of the Sea Eagles playing squad and Olakau’atu’s teammate Josh Schuster wore a wristband with the initials “MF” on it against the Titans.
“It’s something our integrity team is taking a look at,” Abdo said. “I’m not necessarily pleased we have allegations of players showing support potentially under these circumstances. I think the club will deal with the matter with the players over the course of the next couple of days.
“I’m not saying there’s been any breach of the rules, but clearly we want to make sure this is something that isn’t seen as a negative for our game, for the players or for the sport more generally.”
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