RUGBY LEAGUE Maximum ban for Stephenson

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The Challenge Cup semi-final against Wigan was quite a match for the Oldham hooker, David Stephenson. He broke his thumb, was reported and later suspended for two matches for tripping - and he tested positive for steroids. Apart from that, he had a blinder on 25 March.

The 22-year-old player, formerly with the Leeds amateur club, Queens Park, was yesterday banned for the maximum two years after admitting taking the banned drug nandrolone during the close-season last year. The Doncaster full-back, Jamie Bloem, was suspended for the same length of time last December for taking the same substance. Stephenson was accompanied at a two-and-a-half hour hearing in Leeds by the Oldham chairman, Jim Quinn, and coach, Andy Goodway. None of them commented afterwards, although Stephenson has 14 days in which to appeal.

The Featherstone Rovers forward, Joe Naidole, has had his explanation for a positive test accepted by the Rugby League's board of directors. He told them that he had taken a freely-available cough remedy.

Rupert Murdoch's Australian Super League is suing the national coach, Bob Fulton, for damages, claiming that he has induced four Canterbury players to break their contracts with the Super League and sign instead with the Australian Rugby League. The four players - Dean Pay, Jason Smith, Jarrod McCracken and Jim Dymock - are also being sued for breach of contract by the Super League and have already been dropped by their club, which is committed to the Murdoch venture.

Pay and Smith, however, were on opposite sides when Queensland beat New South Wales to win the State of Origin series yesterday. Smith was the man of the match for Queensland at stand-off as they once more upset the odds by winning 20-14 in front of a near-50,000 crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. New South Wales had two tries disallowed when they trailed 14-12 in the dying minutes, before another Canterbury player, Brett Dallas, broke away to clinch the game.

Parramatta, who have signed the Castleford prop, Dean Sampson, for the summer, are also to offer terms to the four Canterbury dissidents.

In Britain, the one First Division club still fighting the Super League tide remains unwilling to sign up for it. Widnes lost their court battle for an injunction to stop the Super League going ahead without them last week, but say that they will not sign the agreement until they receive guarantees about automatic promotion and relegation.