Phone taps put Cronulla under pressure
Credit card receipts and recorded phone conversations may be tabled as evidence when Cronulla players begin meeting Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigators next week.
Despite complaints from federal Sports Minister Kate Lundy that the Sharks had not made any of their players available to be interviewed, Fairfax Media understands that ASADA and legal representatives for the players had agreed last week to a process and time frame for that to occur.
Further talk between ASADA and the player representatives, who Cronulla officials insist have been operating at arm's length from the club since their appointment, are set to continue next week.
Up to 14 Sharks players are then expected to become the first from the NRL to be interviewed by ASADA over the doping scandal that threatens to destroy Cronulla's season.
A number of Manly players are also believed to be facing drugs bans, including one whose name Fairfax had been told was listed in the Australian Crime Commission report into doping and match-fixing with Darren Hibbitt, who has admitted supplying substances to players at three NRL clubs.
Hibbitt, an owner of Advanced Sports Nutrition, told the ABC 7.30 program on Wednesday that he had sold supplements to players at Cronulla and Manly in the car park of the club's training grounds.
He also said his client list included at least one Cowboys player.
Fairfax understands ASADA's evidence against players includes credit card receipts for the purchase of banned substances and recorded phone conversations from phone taps.
With the ACC having conducted an investigation for more than 12 months before publicly releasing a report last month, it is believed that a lot of the evidence has already been collected and ASADA is now trying to gain confessions.
Sharks players last week rejected an offer of a six-month ban if they plead guilty to taking performance enhancing substances but some may change their minds after meeting ASADA investigators.
The deal was negotiated by former ASADA chief counsel Richard Redman, who was appointed by the club to represent the players, and he had initially indicated that they had little to worry about.
But after learning of the evidence against them, he advised the players to accept the six-month bans.
''What the players need to ask themselves is whether they were told what the substances were, did they know it was illegal, are there phone taps of them discussing it, are there credit card receipts of them buying it, are there any witnesses who have given evidence that they knew what they were doing was illegal.
"If they answer yes to any of those questions then six months could be seen as a good deal for them,'' a source close to the investigation told Fairfax.
''On the other hand, if it was provided for them, they were assured it was legal and they accepted what they were told then they should stand up for themselves. They are decisions each player has to make for themselves.''
After the termination of controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank's involvement with the club on May 29, 2011, Cronulla players were told not to have any further contact with him, but there are suspicions that three players did maintain a relationship.
However Dank said he had not stayed in contact with players he knew from his stints at Manly and the Sharks.
''Once I left an NRL team I had no contact with any of their players in any capacity,'' he said in a statement to Channel Nine.
Dank also denied supplying players at Cronulla with any ''horse drugs'', saying: ''I don't know where that has come from. I have never advised a single player to use them or, worse, told them to take them.''
Channel Nine reported that Dank said he had a close working relationship with former Manly coach Des Hasler during his five years at the club from 2006 to 2010.
He also said Cronulla's high-performance staff knew about the club's use of peptides.
Sydney Morning Herald