The Cronulla Sharks were in disarray yesterday with reports that up to 14 players face suspensions for using banned drugs on the eve of Australia's new National Rugby League season.
The Sydney club's officials said they were fully assisting an investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (Asada), which came ahead of their opening game of the 2013 season against the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday.
Reports 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.
Asada's swoop comes after six NRL clubs were last month identified in a nationwide sports doping scandal revealed in a sweeping Australian Crime Commission investigation. The inquiry found that use of banned drugs was common in several sports.
Cronulla, along with North Queensland, Penrith, Canberra, Newcastle and Manly, were mentioned in the ACC report.
Fairfax Media reported Sharks players were allegedly given Thymosin Beta 4 and CJC-1295 peptides during the 2011 season.
News Limited papers said the players were told they had 48 hours to accept a six-month suspension if they used a banned drug - knowingly or otherwise - or later face a possible maximum two-year ban.
"Sharks fans and all rugby league supporters can be assured the club have 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 Sharks 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 yesterday the Sharks would take the field this weekend and the head body would support the club during the Asada investigation.
"We accept that the 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. "Let me make it very clear, however, the absolute majority of our players are doing the right thing."