League takes swift steps to clear its good name

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The Independent Online
Three leading First Division players are all facing the possibility of severe disciplinary action over the events of a turbulent weekend for the code.

David Watson and David Myers of Bradford Northern will be called before the Rugby League's board of directors as soon as they have had chance to study a report from the Sports Council, which carries out the sport's drug-testing procedures.

The two players will be accused of refusing to supply a sample after Bradford's victory over Hull on Sunday. Under the League's regulations, that is an offence in itself. They were selected for testing under new procedures, which permit certain players to be targeted, although most tests will continue to be made on a random basis.

Watson, a New Zealand international who was banned for three months after testing positive for cannabis while playing for Halifax in 1992, was also tested after the Challenge Cup tie against Leeds a week earlier, but the Sports Council was not satisfied with the sample provided then.

The League has stepped up its testing regime since Doncaster's South African full-back, Jamie Bloem, tested positive for an anabolic steroid in December.

Bloem was later reprimanded over a newspaper article in which he claimed steroid use was widespread, but a meeting of clubs last week agreed to bring in a more intensive regime, which will, according to the League's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, eventually result in every player being tested.

The Whitehaven prop Dennis Smith was banned for six months last week after showing traces of ephedrine, taken in a cold remedy. Whitehaven are now considering an appeal, but Myers and Watson could find themselves treated more severely if the board finds against them.

The Bradford chairman, Chris Caisley, already investigating claims that the club's coach, Peter Fox, made an obscene gesture at a disgruntled fan, said that his board would be discussing the matter. "If they are in breach of the regulations, they will have to risk the consequences," he said of his two players.

Rugby league's generally excellent record as a drug-free and disciplined sport took another knock over the weekend when Featherstone Rovers' Kiwi international, Brendon Tuuta, was accused of striking an 11-year-old, partially disabled female supporter at the end of the match at Workington.

The Workington chairman, Kevan Gorge, confirmed that Tuuta had been interviewed by the police, who had also taken statements from a number of witnesses to the alleged incident.

The League is waiting for reports from both clubs and from the Cumbria Police, but Featherstone were playing down the incident yesterday.

"There was nothing in it, and beyond that we have nothing to say," said the club's coach, David Ward, last night.

How much there was in it will be the subject of another League inquiry. All in all, it was not the most propitious day for the announcement that Lindsay is to become the chairman of the Major Spectator Sports Division of the Central Council for Physical Recreation.

With the League's chairman, Rodney Walker, already installed as chairman of the Sports Council, that gives the code two of the most influential posts in British sport. That will count for little, however, unless the code's threatened reputation can be repaired.