A new doping scandal in Australian sport has threatened to overshadow the launch of the new National Rugby League season after reports at up to 14 players with Cronulla Sharks face suspensions for using banned drugs.
The Sydney side confirmed it was assisting an investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority ahead of Sunday's opening match of the season against the Gold Coast Titans.
Reports in Australia said as many as 14 Sharks players had been accused of using prohibited drugs, and offered bans of six months for admitting to having done so, rather than the maximum two-year suspension if later found guilty by ASADA's investigators.
The antidoping probe comes after six NRL clubs were last month identified in a nationwide sports doping scandal revealed in a sweeping Australian Crime Commission investigation.
"Sharks fans and all rugby league supporters can be assured the club has been very proactive in fully co-operating with ASADA and taking other measures that prioritise the integrity of our club and the welfare of our playing group," the club said.
"While there are strict boundaries around what we can say while the ASADA investigation is ongoing, fans should be assured that as soon as there is an opportunity to provide further information we will do so."
The NRL reassured fans that the Sharks would take the field this weekend and that the head body would support the club and its board throughout the current ASADA investigation.
"We accept that the ongoing speculation around the ASADA investigation is causing incredible uncertainty for many in the game, particularly for Cronulla and its fans," NRL chief executive Dave Smith said in a statement.
"The NRL is taking the ASADA investigation very seriously. It is an investigation that must be allowed to run its course and it is inappropriate for us to enter into speculation about what may be taking place.
"Let me make it very clear, however, the absolute majority of our players are doing the right thing and are great ambassadors for the game."
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