Pill crackdown by NRL

RUGBY LEAGUE

The NRL is set to become the first governing sports body in Australia to test for prescription drugs and may also appoint independent doctors at matches to assess players for concussion.

The proposals were among the main topics at a two-day meeting of NRL officials and club bosses in in Auckland before this weekend's Nines tournament. Broncos chief executive Paul White said the game wanted to be a "world leader" in player welfare.

A final decision on implementation would be made before the start of the season, but the league is already preparing to take over testing for illicit substances from clubs.

NRL chief operating officer Jim Doyle said the focus on the testing would be to determine the prevalence of prescription drug misuse.

The NRL planned to educate players on the dangers of mixing sleeping pills and energy drinks, before considering suspensions.

He said the NRL may eventually follow the lead of the Australian Olympic Committee and prohibit the use of sleeping tablets by players but the first step would be to introduce testing. Talks have already begun with the RLPA.

"It is something that we as a game have talked about internally for some time and we are working a lot with the players' association in regards to how do we progress this year and beyond with respect to that," he said.

"We haven't landed on that 100 per cent yet but before the start of the season we will have completed what the NRL's 2014 illicit drugs [list] will consist of."

Doyle said he was awaiting a report from the New Zealand Rugby League into allegations some players in the Kiwis World Cup squad combined prescription drugs and energy drinks while on an alcohol ban during last year's seven-week tournament in Britain.

However, he confirmed the NRL was not in a position to take any action as the players had not taken a banned substance.

"If you found out someone is taking something that is not banned then you can't suspend them for it but it is about the duty of care to the players," he said.

"Do they really understand what they are doing to themselves and their bodies?"

While ASADA tests players for performance enhancing drugs, clubs are responsible for testing for illicit substances, such as cocaine and marijuana, and report findings to the NRL.

However, Doyle said the NRL planned to take that role over from the clubs and would include prescription drugs in the list of substances tested for.

"It is not ASADA, we do our own testing and that will be part of it," he said.

White said clubs supported allowing the NRL to test for prescription drugs as well as illicit substances.

"The thing about this is that it is positive and the game is on the front foot," White said. "I know there are assertions about what might have happened with the New Zealand team but from where I sit as CEO, I don't see it as being rampant.

"But I think this an opportunity as a game to work proactively with the game and the players themselves to identify a way that improves welfare."

White also tabled a proposal allowing teams who lose a player with concussion in a match to be given a free interchange when he is replaced and returns.

Doyle said the NRL was also considering providing an independent doctor at matches to decide whether a player needs to leave the field to be assessed.

"We are looking at that, it would be an appointed person," Doyle said.

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