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Cronulla want hair follicle drug testing

NZN 15/06/2017 Warren Barnsley

Cronulla are pushing the NRL to allow them to introduce mandatory hair follicle testing of their players in a bid to ramp up the fight against illicit drug use.

The premiers have been hit hard by drug use in the past nine months, with star fullback Ben Barba and chairman Damian Keogh departing after separate cocaine scandals.

The Sharks' proposal would have all squad members and youth competition players older than 18 tested four times a year.

The Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) has not ruled out supporting the measure but raised concerns the testing could encroach on players' rights to privacy.

The issue is being discussed by the NRL and RLPA in collective bargaining negotiations, but the league would not comment further on the matter until talks were concluded.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said his players were on board with the idea.

"As a club, we've challenged ourselves - how can we help in this area?" Flanagan told reporters on Friday.

"Is it a problem in the game? I'm not quite sure, but we want to set some examples as a club.

"They say it's a society problem; you can't have it in rugby league.

"Hopefully we can all work together to come up with a system that doesn't allow this to spoil our game."

It's not the first time the NRL has faced calls to green light hair follicle testing.

In 2015, then South Sydney chief executive John Lee raised the idea after players Dylan Walker and Aaron Gray overdosed on painkillers.

Sports Lawyer principal Paul Horvath, a Melbourne solicitor with expertise in drugs in sports, said hair follicle testing had the potential to provide a higher degree of accuracy than other forms of testing.

But he agreed with the RLPA that players' privacy could be put at risk.

Horvath said the testing was intrusive and could result in, for example, the unwanted revelation of a player's issues with mental health.

"The recent problems with the (former) Cronulla chairman are concerning in terms of setting the cultural tone of expectations within an organisation and no doubt Cronulla are seeking to clean that up," Horvath told AAP.

"The type of sensitive and personal information that's acquired by the employer in testing hair follicles and the sorts of substances that can show up there has serious privacy implications.

"It's my view that the more appropriate channels for the introduction of hair follicle testing is through the players' association in conjunction with the NRL.

"The deterrence should be something that's across the board in the NRL, rather than being sought to be created within one club."

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