Warriors ban players from taking sleeping pills

16:00, Feb 10 2014

Warriors players have been banned from taking sleeping pills and other NRL clubs are installing strict guidelines about the use of prescription drugs.

Despite having the most taxing travel schedule in the NRL as they need to catch an international flight for away games, players at the Auckland-based club have been told they will not be given sleeping pills unless prescribed for an injury or medical condition.

Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett said he had a policy that players in need of sleeping tablets must see the club doctor, who then advise him, while Penrith boss Phil Gould said his players were left in no doubt of the club's attitude towards the use of medication and supplements.

Concerns about the potential misuse of sleeping pills and similar medication have arisen after allegations that five players in New Zealand's World Cup squad had combined them with energy drinks at various stages of the tournament - including on the eve of the final.

While the NZRL is looking into whether the practice contributed to the performance of the Kiwis in their 34-2 capitulation to Australia, the greater worry is for the health and welfare of players as combining energy drinks and sleeping pills can result in users hallucinating or passing out.

Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said coach Matthew Elliott and club doctor John Mayhew had already been reviewing the use of sleeping pills and similar medication at the club but they had addressed the players about the issue in the wake of the World Cup allegations.

"Obviously it is topical so we have had meetings and we have reinforced our policies amongst the playing group, but we had been working on some initiatives because of our own challenges with different time zones," Scurrah said.

"Matt is a big driver of it. We travel a lot so sleep is a big issue for us and he is looking for some innovative ways for guys to be able to rest and relax.

"Our doctor, John Mayhew, has a wealth of experience and he is very anti-any prescription unless as a last resort so if there are ways of treating people without prescribing anything that is what he opts for.

"He is very forthright in the expectations of players and their personal welfare, and also having them at peak performance. It doesn't mean we don't have issues with people who breach stuff but generally our whole environment is very positive."

While the Knights don't have a ban on players taking sleeping tablets, Bennett said he had been concerned for some time about the potential misuse of prescription drugs by athletes and insisted on strict procedures wherever he coached.

"I have been driving that for a decade, since the first time I realised it may have been happening in the game," Bennett said.

"No staff member prescribes any sleeping tablets, and if [players] do need any sleeping tablet for a medical condition that is up to the doctors and the doctors advise us, and they only get a limited amount.

"Our medical staff are on board and they advise us if anyone comes to ask for sleepers, and if any are prescribed they will certainly tell us why."

Gould said the misuse of prescription drugs was a widespread issue in society and the Panthers had not had any incidents but were guarding against complacency by educating them on the health dangers and club policies.

"We deal with these issues at the start of every season and no player is left in doubt regarding our attitude and policies towards medications, supplements and pain relief measures," Gould said.

"It's an education process and we take these player welfare responsibilities very seriously."

The NRL integrity unit is working closely with the NZRL investigation but is unlikely to take action against individual players as they have not been accused of doing anything illegal, although there are questions about how they sourced the sleeping pills as it wasn't from Kiwis doctor Simon Mayhew.

Instead, NRL chief operating officer Jim Doyle and integrity unit officer Alby Taylor are expected to formulate guidelines about the issueing of prescription drugs at clubs.

"Jim, Alby and the NRL integrity unit have been incredibly proactive and they are trying to get the ambulance to the top of the cliff on a lot of this stuff so everyone is clear on the expectations and they understand the consequences if people break the rules," Scurrah said.

"I think a lot of this stuff clubs can self-police. I think the NRL are there to set the minimum standard and clubs can take it from there."


Fairfax Media