Lebanese rugby league team in storm over funny substances

The contest to find the world's least likely headline grabbers in sport hotted up last night when controversy hit the Lebanese rugby league team.

The contest to find the world's least likely headline grabbers in sport hotted up last night when controversy hit the Lebanese rugby league team.

Five days before the start of the Lincoln Financial Rugby League World Cup, in which the lads from Lebanon are surprise contenders, their captain, Darren Marroon, failed a drug test. He tested positive for ephedrine after a match for the Sydney Bulls in an Australian club competition.

This development has moved the side from the Middle East comfortably ahead of Equatorial Guinea's swimming team (featuring the slowmotion Eric the Eel) in the unofficial race to be this year's surprise sports team. Only a sudden rush of blood to the heads of Uzbekistan's cricketers or Bolivia's speedway side can now rob them of glory.

Lebanon's rugby league players - based, as one might expect, in Australia - are no strangers to controversy. They were warned about their conduct after a car-park fight that put the American winger Tony Fabri in hospital after the qualifying match between the two countries last November. Their coach, John Elias, was refused entry to America because of a firearms conviction.

Victory in that game put the Lebanon into a group with Wales, New Zealand and the Cook Islands -- with the Kiwis as their first opponents in Gloucester on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Marroon's case has been heard by a three-man tribunal, including the former Australian captain, Dr George Peponis. It has accepted his explanation that he took the banned substance unwittingly in a sports drink.

Marroon, Lebanon's most experienced forward as well as their captain, flew out with the rest of the squad yesterday and is due to arrive in London today. Indications are that the Australian Rugby League's verdict will be the end of the matter, although Greg McCallum, who as the Rugby League's director of rugby has overall charge of the tournament, said it could possibly be taken further.

There will be a programme of random testing during the World Cup, just as there was at the last tournament in 1995 when the New Zealand hooker, Syd Eru, tested positive for ephedrine.

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