Members of Cronulla's 2011 squad, who have been called to a meeting today with ASADA and the NRL, have been advised not to accept a reduced suspension simply to bring the 18-month saga to an end, while officials from rival clubs have questioned how players can be allowed to negotiate the terms of a ban.
The players and their legal representatives are expected to be offered suspensions of six months or less for their part in the supplements programme at the club in 2011, with the bans to begin at the end of the season so they would miss no more than the first month of next season.
However, Rugby League Players' Association chief executive David Garnsey has urged the 17 players - of whom four are still playing for Cronulla and six are at rival NRL clubs, including Warriors player Jayson Bukuya - not to forgo their legal rights just to end the drawn-out investigation.
''The players need to understand they have rights in this situation as well, and they shouldn't simply throw their hat in because they want the situation to end,'' Garnsey said on Tuesday at the announcement of the NRL's academic team of the year.
''It would be good to have that behind us but that is not the reason to bring that about.''
Players who played between rounds two and five of the 2011 season were provided with details of the meeting on Tuesday and it is understood they will be spoken to separately or in small groups, and possibly at different locations.
ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt is expected to be in attendance and it is understood he wants to finalise the investigation by the end of the season.
But some officials from rival clubs have questioned how any player who admits to taking a prohibited substance can be offered a deal that would result in them missing the same number of matches as South Sydney second-rower Ben Te'o and Cronulla forward Sam Tagataese, who pleaded guilty to illegal tackles.
''How can taking performance-enhancing drugs be treated the same as a chicken wing,'' one chief executive said.
''We were all told at the start of this that the NRL would not allow players to serve suspensions during the off-season.''
Another club official said: ''To allow players to negotiate outcomes is outrageous and it sets an incredibly dangerous precedent. If ASADA had the evidence they would be nailing these guys, so they either haven't got the evidence or they stuffed up the process.''
However, many in the game just want the saga to be over.
''I don't care if they get a one-month suspension or even a one-day suspension, this has dragged on for long enough and it has put a cloud over the entire game,'' another chief executive said.
Garnsey said he was aware of the toll the investigation had taken on the players involved and their families.
''It has been an extraordinary strain on them and how they have been able to focus on their football at all, I just don't know,'' Garnsey told AAP.
''Of course, with the evolution of time, a lot of players who were at the Sharks have moved overseas or to other clubs.
''But it is hard to avoid the fact that those at the Sharks and those in that environment have had a very tough time and it is not something that you want any athlete facing.
''We all want to focus on football, that is a given, and these things are unfortunate when they take the headlines and take the focus away from why we all love the game but the players need to understand they have rights in this situation as well.''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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