New Zealand rugby league is reeling from a fresh claim of prescription drug misuse just days out from the world No.1 Kiwis’ Test against Australia.
The New Zealand Herald says that five of six Warriors players stood down from NRL and Test duties by the club admitted to mixing prescription drugs and energy drinks on a controversial night out following last week’s heavy loss to Melbourne.
Three of them – Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino and Bodene Thompson – were since overlooked by Kiwis coach Steve Kearney for Friday night’s clash with the Kangaroos in Newcastle.
The others – Sam Lisone, Albert Vete and Konrad Hurrell – were prevented from playing in the Pacific Island Tests double header in Sydney on Saturday, although the NZ Herald said Hurrell denied taking prescription drugs on the night.
The drug misuse allegation came after Warriors boss Jim Doyle aroused anger and confusion when he said the NRL club had blocked Vatuvei, Matulino and Thompson from playing for the Kiwis.
Speaking on Monday, before the newspaper aired its claims, Kiwis coach Kearney acknowledged he’d been consulted and agreed to the players being ruled out of New Zealand Test duty.
“In talking with the hierarchy at the Warriors I am aware of the detail and that doesn’t fit our protocol either,” Kearney said.
“It is important that Test match football is the pinnacle of our game. But if there are issues at club level that we certainly don’t agree with either then we will make the appropriate decisions accordingly.”
Warriors managing director Doyle on Monday reaffirmed the club’s position on the players who were disciplined.
“We’re continuing to deal with this internally, focusing on player welfare. We won’t be going into any details and we won’t be making any further comment,” he said in a statement.
The allegation comes two years after the New Zealand Rugby League investigated claims that some Kiwis players had mixed prescription sleeping pills with energy drink while at the 2013 World Cup.
The practice is not illegal and is not banned under the WADA code.
The outcome of the internal investigation was not revealed and no players were disciplined publicly. However the NZRL admitted the matter hurt the Kiwis’ World Cup campaign.
“We’re very concerned at the health risks involved in this practice and the players involved probably aren’t even aware of the risk they are putting themselves at,” said NZRL chief executive Phil Holden, when reappointing Kearney in February 2014.
“Their behaviour certainly divided the group and, in some cases, probably affected how individual players recovered from games, so it was definitely a factor.
“But we can’t in all honesty say it cost us the World Cup title – that would be disrespectful to an Australian side that deserve to rank among the all-time greats.”
Kearney said on Monday he hoped players would learn a lesson from being stood down from rep football.
“Regardless who the player is we have a protocol and it is important that we stick to our values and what we want to stand for as a team and those issue didn’t fit what we are after,” Kearney said.
“It is always important to keep that in mind.
“It happened at club level and in discussion with Jim (Doyle) and Cappy (Warriors coach Andrew McFadden) I needed to know the information for the best interests of New Zealand Rugby League and I acted accordingly.
“It is those painful lessons they will learn from and allow them to grow.”