Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Cocaine issue might be more prevalent than people think

The NRL's cocaine issue might be more prevalent than anyone could have imagined.

ONE News reported tonight that 12 NRL players tested positive for cocaine following the various 'Mad Monday' celebrations at the end of last season.

However because they were a first offence, according to the New Zealand media organisation, the results of their tests were kept private, only revealed to the respective teams and the governing body.

The NRL operate a three 'strikes' system. The first strike - or offence - sees a player receive a suspended fine (usually equivalent to five per cent of their salary) and undertake counselling and rehabilitation programmes. The offending men are also entered on a targeted testing list, which means they can be tested more often.

A second strike attracts a 12-week suspension and a third strike means they are deregistered.

If the reported figure of 12 is correct, that's an remarkable number over a five-week period.

Eight clubs commenced their 'Mad Monday' parties on September 5 last year, followed by teams over the rest of the month, as they were knocked out of premiership contention, before the Storm and Cronulla had their post grand final shakedowns on October 3.

Illicit drug use in the NRL has come into the spotlight over the last week, especially in the wake of the episode involving Kiwis Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor in Canberra which has seen them ruled out of Kiwis contention for the upcoming World Cup.

That incident followed Shaun Kenny-Dowall being stood by the Roosters last week for alleged possession of cocaine, and Cronulla chairman Damian Keogh arrested after a sweep by drug dogs in an inner city Sydney pub allegedly found a small packet of cocaine in his bag.

On Tuesday 20-year-old Sharks forward Jesse Savage was also stood down from all club activities, after he had been allegedly found with a prohibited substance in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Meanwhile Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga backed the New Zealand Rugby League's decision on Bromwich and Proctor, and said that the NRL needed to take a harder stance.

"If you've brought the game into disrepute, you should cop the consequences," Meninga told The Courier-Mail on Tuesday.

"Call me harsh, call me old-fashioned, but the game needs a stronger stance. The NRL's drugs policy is too lenient because players keep doing it.

"We need a real deterrent. The first offence [should be] you don't play the game for 12 weeks and if you do it again, you should be deregistered. If a player can't do the right thing by the game, armed with all the education the NRL provides, they shouldn't be in our game. As soon as a player signs a contract with the National Rugby League, they are accountable for their behaviour. That's where we need to take this."

- NZ Herald

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