NRL makes historic agreement to allow blood testing of players
NRL agrees to blood testing - NRL Premiership - Fox Sports
By Brent Read
March 18, 2010 .The NRL has struck an historic agreement with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency and the Rugby League Players Association to begin blood testing for human growth hormone (HGH) and EPO (erythropoietin).
The push to expand the game's drug testing regime, already regarded as one of the best in Australian sport, picked up momentum last week after a meeting between officials of the NRL, the players' association and the anti-doping agency, as well as senior medical officers.
The final obstacle was removed on Wednesday night when the players' association executive agreed to support the move, a week after the AFL announced it was expanding its drug testing procedures to include blood sampling for HGH, EPO and CERA (continuous erythropoietin receptor activator).
"We have been discussing the issue of HGH, EPO and CERA for some months," NRL chief executive David Gallop said.
"And while neither we nor ASADA have any information to suggest these substances are being used in the NRL, the additional tests will provide an extra level of deterrent. The NRL will contribute to the additional testing program, with ASADA free to determine both the selection of athletes and the overall numbers it deems appropriate."
The issue of blood testing in rugby league has come to the fore since the landmark suspension of former Great Britain hooker Terry Newton.
He was handed a two-year suspension after becoming the first athlete to return a positive test to HGH last year. The one-time enfant terrible of English rugby league was caught in target testing by England's drug authority.
After that result the NRL said it was monitoring the situation. Despite contradictory evidence from several medical experts on whether HGH was of benefit to rugby league players, the NRL decided to take a proactive stance on the issue.
It will fund blood testing to be carried out at the discretion of ASADA. The NRL declined to reveal the number of tests but they will augment the game's existing procedures.
NRL players are subject to standard testing through ASADA, while the NRL pays for the country's peak testing organisation to conduct an additional 600 tests each year.
The NRL also has one of the country's most highly regarded in-house testing policies, with each club conducting at least 70 tests annually for illicit drugs.
"By working with ASADA in this area we are ensuring league's existing testing program is maintained, while also ensuring the game benefits from the latest . . . technology," Gallop said.
"It's important that people realise the players have always been available for any tests that ASADA wishes to carry out under the WADA code."
Wednesday night's decision represents a change of tack by the players' association, which had been reticent to support blood sampling because it had received medical advice suggesting HGH was of little to no benefit to rugby league players.
Furthermore, the intrusive and expensive nature of the testing concerned the players union. The latest developments could have ramifications at representative level as well. English rugby league head Richard Lewis has called for the introduction of blood testing for the Four Nations tournament at the end of the season.
The NRL's decision could prompt international officials to follow suit. It is also likely to win praise from World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey, a former rugby league player, who said last week he encouraged all sports to investigate expanding their drug-testing to cover substances such as HGH and EPO.
In other news, Wests Tigers winger Beau Ryan had a grade-three dangerous contact charge downgraded at the judiciary.
Ryan was found guilty of a grade-two offence and suspended for one match, meaning he will miss Sunday's game against Sydney Roosters at the Sydney Football Stadium.
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