Some of the Cronulla players accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs in 2011 could escape with a ban of as little as four weeks during the off season.
Past and present players are expected to be called to a meeting with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the NRL this week where they will be offered a range of sanctions, some receiving a ban of one month and others six months.
It is understood the meeting will be on Wednesday, with the authority's chief executive Ben McDevitt anxious for it to be resolved before the end of the season so players given six-month bans can miss only one month of the 2015 season.
There are 10 players from the 2011 squad still playing in the NRL who may be affected: Sharks quartet Paul Gallen, Wade Graham, Anthony Tupou and Nathan Gardner, Gold Coast's Luke Douglas and Albert Kelly, Newcastle's Kade Snowden and Jeremy Smith, Warriors forward Jayson Bukuya and North Queensland back Matthew Wright.
Although the World Anti-Doping Agency code allows for a maximum 75 per cent discount on the standard two-year punishment for players who co-operate with ASADA, there is provision for admonishment, or a one-month sanction, for those found to have taken unapproved prescribed, rather than prohibited, substances.
ASADA's move comes as International Olympic Committee executive member John Coates warned that the world body might intercede in the AFL/NRL drugs scandal, following revelations in the Federal Court last week of the politicisation of the national anti-doping body.
The same concerns have senior federal government ministers considering either a judicial or Senate inquiry into ASADA.
Mr Coates, who is also president of the Australian Olympic Committee and a pioneer of anti-doping legislation, warned that the Federal Court case would have attracted the attention of the world body.
A three-day Federal Court hearing in Melbourne, presided over by Justice John Middleton, learnt how the former sports minister, Senator Kate Lundy, sought favourable outcomes for the AFL during ASADA's 2013 investigation into the use of banned peptides. "WADA will be watching the Federal Court case with interest," he said.
Mr Coates said the world body attached great importance to the independence of national anti-doping authorities and the role of government in upholding it. Affiliation is mandatory for any nation bidding for or hosting an international sporting event.
''Should Australia not become WADA compliant, we would not be able to host major international events such as the cricket World Cup and football's Asian Cup, plus the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast,'' Mr Coates said.
Former WADA president John Fahey supported Mr Coates, saying: ''The independence of anti-doping organisations is crucial to an effective anti-doping outcome. The system's integrity is critical. WADA views with concern the AFL investigation and the alleged undue influence by officials on ASADA.''
Last week's Federal Court hearing was told how a deputy under-secretary in the Prime Minister's Department, Richard Eccles, attended joint AFL/ASADA meetings, a key element in the argument of Essendon and coach James Hird that the joint AFL/ASADA investigation was unlawful.
Mr Eccles told one meeting last June, attended by the AFL's then deputy chief executive, Gillon McLachlan, Essendon's then president, David Evans, and ASADA's former chief executive, Aurora Andruska, that Senator Lundy ''needs something'', including a ''deal with AFL'' where the club's ''support staff'' would be ''sacked'', ''points off'' and ''players off''.
When Ms Andruska eventually resigned earlier this year, Mr Fahey sympathised with her having to stand up to ''bully boys'', a possible reference to senior AFL executives and Mr Eccles.
Cory Bernardi, who served five years on the board of the Australian Sports Commission and is a former world champion rower, led the inquiry in the Senate when ASADA was seeking enhanced powers to prosecute athletes. ''I am appalled by what has come out in the Federal Court over this, particularly the role of the former government in trying to reach an outcome for the AFL,'' Senator Bernardi said.
A Senate inquiry would depend on the support of the crossbenches. Labor would not support it because it would presumably target a former minister, while the Greens are at present opposed to most of the government's agenda.
Glenn Lazarus, a premiership player at three NRL clubs and a Palmer United Party senator, may see some merit in an inquiry which would reveal the machinations behind a deal that favoured AFL players over rugby league players.
NRL chief executive Dave Smith admits that when he learnt of the zero sanctions offered AFL players, after ASADA had earlier tabled an offer of a six-month suspension to NRL players, he flew to Canberra to protest to the then prime minister, Julia Gillard.
The Sharks of 2011: Where are they now?
The 31 Sharks who played at NRL level
Paul Aiton (Leeds Rhinos)
Colin Best (retired)
Jason Bukuya (NZ Warriors)
Dean Colliss (Wakefield Wildcats)
Josh Cordoba (London Broncos)
Luke Douglas (Gold Coast Titans)
Stuart Flanagan (Appin Dogs)
Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Paul Gallen (Cronulla Sharks)
Nathan Gardner (Cronulla Sharks)
Isaac Gordon (retired)
Wade Graham (Cronulla Sharks)
Albert Kelly (Gold Coast Titans)
Ricky Leutele (Cronulla Sharks)
Jon Mannah (deceased)
Stewart Mills (Helensburgh Tigers)
John Morris (retired)
Ben Pomeroy (Catalans)
Scott Porter (retired)
Jeremy Smith (Newcastle Knights)
Tim Smith (Wakefield Wildcats)
Kade Snowden (Newcastle Knights)
Nathan Stapleton (Sydney Roosters)
Sam Tagatese (Cronulla Sharks)
Taulima Tautai (Wakefield Wildcats)
Chad Townsend (NZ Warriors)
Anthony Tupou (Cronulla Sharks)
Siosaia Vave (London Broncos)
John Williams (retired)
Broderick Wright (retired)
Matthew Wright (North Queensland Cowboys)
- Sydney Morning Herald
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