Rugby League Players' Association chief David Garnsey says anti-doping authorities shouldn't punish players for taking performance-enhancing drugs if they were unwittingly sanctioned by clubs.
Garnsey has weighed in following the investigation into Cronulla by the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), where up to 14 players are facing action, and offered six-month bans instead of two years if they plead guilty to using prohibited drugs during the 2011 season.
"Rugby League players ultimately place their trust in those who are in positions of knowledge and authority at their clubs and, as employees, follow the directions of their employers," Garnsey said.
"There was a recognition in the Australian Crime Commission's (ACC) report that illegal substances had been administered to players by staff at clubs without those players understanding the nature of the substances. Where that has occurred, it's clear that those athletes have been exploited and are not drug-cheats, yet they are subject to the same sanctions as those who deliberately set out to take prohibited substances to enhance their performance.
"In short, for reasonably obeying their employers, athletes' careers can be destroyed and reputations irreparably damaged. This cannot have been the object of the Wada Code.
"The RLPA believes absolutely that the integrity of rugby league must never be compromised.
"However, to ensure that honest athletes are not unfairly punished and that public confidence in the game is not eroded, the RLPA calls on ASADA and the NRL to apportion the blame for any doping offences which may be found to have taken place where it should properly lie."