Five of the six Warriors players banned from test football by the club have admitted to mixing prescription drugs with energy drinks on the infamous night out less than 48 hours after the big loss to Melbourne.
The revelation sheds dramatic new light on the controversy and explains why a club matter has seen players pulled out of test football, in part because the Warriors have great concern over the players' welfare. The players have also been punished for breaching club standards.
Established Kiwis Manu Vatuvei and Ben Matulino along with fringe test candidate Bodene Thompson were barred from being picked for Friday night's test against the Kangaroos in Newcastle. Sam Lisone (Samoa), Konrad Hurrell and Albert Vete (Tonga) were stopped from playing Pacific tests in west Sydney on Saturday.
Radio Sport's Kent Johns talks to NZRL CEO Alex Hayton:
Vatuvei, Matulino, Thompson, Lisone, and Vete admitted to the club last Thursday that they mixed prescription drugs and energy drinks on the late Tuesday/early Wednesday incident in Auckland.
Manu Vatuvei. Photo / Getty
Ben Matulino. Photo / Getty
Bodene Thompson. Photo / Getty
Albert Vete. Photo / Getty
Sam Lisone. Photo / Getty
Hurrell, whose Warriors future is in severe doubt because of off field incidents, told the club he did not take prescription pills. Hurrell said he went out to support the players and act as the driver.
The six players were dropped to reserve grade when the Warriors played the Dragons in Sunday's NRL match at Mt Smart Stadium. The Herald understands that if any of the players are found to have longstanding prescription drug issues that need addressing, they may be kept out of football altogether until it is felt their welfare has been taken care of. The Warriors have a bye this weekend.
Many of the team had been at an unidentified house on a poker evening. Most went home but the six including club legends Vatuvei and Matulino headed to a central Auckland bar. It is not clear how word got back to the club, but officials became concerned and suspicious because of past incidents involving footballers and the energy drink/prescription pill mix. The players were talked to individually.
The Warriors have been criticised for overstepping the mark with the test bans but have been supported by the New Zealand Rugby League and NRL because of the prescription drug element. Had the players simply been having a quiet night out into the wee hours, they would still have been dropped from the Dragons match, but would have been free to play in the upcoming test.
Warriors CEO Jim Doyle would not comment to the Herald on confidentiality grounds, except to say: "We've dealt with it internally and our focus is on player welfare."
The news comes just days after Kiwi and Parramatta star Kieran Foran was hospitalised after reportedly taking an overdose of prescription pills. And Steve Kearney's underperforming 2013 World Cup side was hit by claims that a few players took the energy drink/pills cocktail as a recovery practice. Support staff raised the concerns and the NZRL investigated.
In February 2014, then NZRL chief executive Phil Holden said any future misuse of prescription drugs in the Kiwis environment could ultimately result in the offenders losing the chance to represent their country.
Why mix energy drinks and prescription drugs?
Players are said to take the mix because it gives them a "buzz" without side effects and consequences which, for instance, excessive alcohol consumption can cause.
One official told the Herald that in the past, players could deal with stress and pressure through heavy drinking but this was not so acceptable any more.
Heavy drinking leads to weight gain, dehydration and sometimes poor behaviour in public which has a huge effect on some players' careers. Mixing energy drinks and sleeping pills is not illegal, but can still produce effects similar to recreational drugs which are.
In a Herald on Sunday report about the 2013 World Cup problems, the paper stated: "...there were concerns about some individuals, with players confronted because of their appearance and asked if they had been drinking; some players looked 'dozy and half asleep' at the wrong time of the day."
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