Manly eye calf blood jabs for finals push

MAD COW?: Manly are considering using calves' blood extract to help boost player endurance.
MAD COW?: Manly are considering using calves' blood extract to help boost player endurance.

Manly are considering using a controversial calves' blood extract to help boost the endurance of their players in the lead-up to the finals.

The Sea Eagles, who are top of the premiership, have adopted a cutting-edge approach to the use of science in recent years, and an emphasis on altitude training has been credited for their second-half dominance this season.

Under the guidance of physiologist Steve Dank, Manly have led the way in introducing DNA testing of players, GPS tracking to monitor their performances at training, and the use of radical herbal supplements such as the $300 per litre anti-inflammatory product Lact-Away, which is made from the bark of French pine and was initially a racehorse treatment.

They were also the first NRL club to use live video streaming of matches, which allows Des Hasler and his coaching staff to review aspects of the game while it is being played.

Now the Sea Eagles are understood to be planning to go a step further by injecting Actovegin, a product containing calves' blood extract that has become popular with athletes in Europe, who believe it helps to heal muscular injuries and increases stamina.

Manly chief executive Grant Mayer said he was unaware of whether the club used Actovegin and referred the Herald to Hasler, but he declined to discuss any of the Sea Eagles' training methods. "I won't be talking about any of that. I'm happy to talk about the games but I don't want to talk about what we do at training," Hasler said.

Dank said: "I don't do media interviews. What the sports science department does stays in-house."

Most commonly used for the treatment of soft-tissue injuries, Actovegin also improves the circulation of oxygen in the blood and offers similar benefits to altitude training, which the Sea Eagles do in their state-of-the-art gymnasium at the NSW Sports Academy in Narrabeen.

Fitted with masks as they work out on treadmills, the Manly players are able to train with a reduced oxygen intake that makes it easier when they play in normal conditions.

The NRL was not aware of any clubs using Actovegin, but has no concerns as long as they do not breach anti-doping guidelines.

"We work very hard to make sure our players and clubs are aware of the WADA rules as part of our education program," said NRL public affairs manager John Brady. "There are many supplements players can legally take from vitamins to other things and provided they fit within the WADA guidelines it is a decision for them to make on a player by player and club by club basis."

Actovegin gained prominence in AFL after Geelong's Max Rooke last year underwent a radical treatment in Germany to help him to return from what was initially diagnosed as a season-ending hamstring tear.

Richmond midfielder Mark Coughlan recently endured 102 injections of Actovegin over a two-week period under the supervision of German soft-tissue specialist Dr Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfarth in a bid to save his career after suffering repeated hamstring problems as he attempted to come back from a knee reconstruction.

Muller-Wohlfarth, a team doctor with the Bayern Munich football club, is reputed to be the miracle man who helps heal injuries with a concoction of calves' blood extract, cockerel's crest, manuka honey, anti-inflammatories and anaesthetics.

His list of clients is impressive: Socceroo Harry Kewell, British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, British stars Michael Owen and Darren Gough, and US sprinter Maurice Greene.

A stream of Australian athletes struggling to repair hamstrings and soft-tissue injuries, Jana Rawlinson included, have also found their way to his Munich clinic, but the unconventional methods of Muller-Wohlfarth are scientifically untested. Eight years ago the IOC looked at banning calves' blood extract when a number of international teams imported the product into Australia for the Sydney Olympics. But the IOC medical experts could find no evidence it helped transport oxygen.

The World Anti Doping Agency has not banned the product, nor is it on its current "watch-list" of drugs to be monitored. ASADA chairman Richard Ings said Actovegin was not on the prohibited list, but injecting it intravenously - as opposed to intra-muscularly - was illegal.

Sydney Morning Herald