Wade Graham, Paul Gallen, Anthony Tupou, Nathan Gardner and the soon-to-retire John Morris have all reportedly been offered the chance to plead guilty and take reduced suspensions backdated to November 1.
This would be mean the players would only miss the remaining games from this season and be free to start next season.
But should they choose to clear their names, the players could potentially face up to a two-year suspension if found guilty.
It’s believed ASADA is willing to compromise because of the inordinate delay in the long-running investigation, as well as the fact players might have been misled into using prohibited substances CJC-1295 and GHRP-6 in a five-week period during the 2011 season.
A Sharks official confirmed to AAP the players had been offered deals and they must decide whether to accept guilt or prepare for a show-cause hearing with ASADA which they would have 10 days to prepare for and could potentially face a two-year ban.
Twelve others who played for the club during that season will also be issued with show-causes but there’s been no confirmation if similar deals are on the table.
Lawyer Richard Redman met his clients Graham, Tupou, Morris and Gardner on Wednesday but declined to comment.
Gallen, who drove the players home from the meeting, earlier on Wednesday expressed concern about admitting any wrongdoing.
“It’s (our reputation) tarnished now already, but no matter what, if we do this, we’re going to be labelled a drug cheat,” he told Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast.
“It’s a tough situation to be in.
“Our mind and our mood changes every 10 minutes. At one stage, we’re (thinking) ‘thank God, this is going to be over hopefully. Whatever happens is going to happen and we can just get on with life’.
“Because closure on this thing would just be unbelievable (after) what we’ve gone through the past two seasons.
“But then you say ‘let’s stuff this – we’ve done nothing wrong’.
“It’s a real hard situation to be in.”
Regardless, Gallen was adamant he hadn’t taken any banned substance.
“I’m 100 per cent positive I’ve never taken anything that’s been on any banned list,” he said.
The Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) said ASADA had put the players in an unfair position.
“This investigation commenced 18 months ago and the NRL has already determined there was a serious deficiency in governance at the club and that it failed to provide players with a safe workplace,” a statement said.
“The players are now being compelled to explain why they should not be sanctioned and so are effectively being held to account for a failure by their employer to observe their duty of care obligations.
“The RLPA maintains this situation is inequitable and unreasonable.”
ASADA confirmed the notices were issued based on evidence collected during the 16-month probe that began after the infamous ‘darkest day in Australian sport’ media conference in February 2013.
“This information along with the evidence collected by ASADA will be put to the independent Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel for consideration,” a statement said.
“In the event the panel enters a player onto the Register of Findings, the player will be offered an opportunity to have their matter heard before the NRL’s Anti-Doping Tribunal.
“Should a matter proceed to the NRL’s Anti-Doping Tribunal, it will be responsible for assessing the evidence and player submissions before delivering a judgment.
“In the event a player waives their right to a hearing, the NRL will decide the appropriate sanction in accordance with its anti-doping policy.”
North Queensland issued a statement on Wednesday evening, saying they understood Matthew Wright had received a show-cause notice from ASADA.
The Cowboys said there had been no information provided directly to them from ASADA at this stage.
HOW THE NRL ANTI-DOPING INVESTIGATION UNFOLDED:
February 7, 2013 – Australian Crime Commission (ACC) announces a year-long investigation has uncovered widespread use of drugs in Australian sport.
February 12 – Cronulla, Manly, Newcastle, North Queensland, Penrith and Canberra announce they were implicated in the ACC’s report, and discuss possible amnesties with ASADA for players and officials who come forward early
February 13 – Cronulla reveal part of their 2011 season is under scrutiny but that no players have tested positive for performance-enhancing substances
March 6 – Cronulla confirm meeting with ASADA
March 8 – Coach Shane Flanagan stood down pending a management review. Cronulla sack football general manager Darren Mooney, head trainer Mark Noakes, club doctor David Givney and physio Konrad Schultz. Bruno Cullen appointed interim CEO
March 13 – Damian Irvine quits as Cronulla chairman following report he claimed players were injected with horse drugs in 2011
March 20 – NRL confirms ASADA will interview 31 players after completing the first phase of its investigation
March 22 – Flanagan reinstated as Sharks coach
April 3 – Steve Noyce appointed general manager of football
April 29 – Sharks back-rower Wade Graham becomes first NRL player to be interviewed by ASADA. The authority later suspends interviews with NRL players
May 12 – Extracts of a report by ex-ASADA deputy chair Dr Tricia Kavanagh published by News Corp Australia, claiming the Sharks employed a systematic regimen of peptides in 2011 in a program of injections, tablets and creams over an 11-week period while sports scientist Stephen Dank was linked to the club
May 30 – ASADA CEO Aurora Andruska tells a Senate estimates hearing 113 interviews had been conducted and more than 50,000 documents examined since February 7
June 27 – ASADA granted new powers to compel suspect athletes and others to hand over documents and turn up for questioning, effective August 1
July 22 – NRL issues directives to 30 players and support staff – including 10 from Cronulla – to schedule interviews with ASADA
July 29 – Cronulla reinstate Noakes, reach a settlement with Givney and Schultz, and resume talks with Mooney, and apologise for causing damage to their reputations
July 29 – Cullen quits as interim CEO. Noyce appointed two days later.
August 1 – ASADA begins interviews with 30 NRL players and support staff
August 6 – Sharks skipper Paul Gallen and Manly’s Anthony Watmough’s mobile phones reportedly seized by Customs at Sydney Airport
August 29 – Canberra’s Sandor Earl is suspended and issued with a NRL infraction notice after admitting to using and trafficking the banned peptide CJC-1295
December 11 – ARL Commissioners and NRL integrity unit meet for 10 hours on the progress of the investigation into Cronulla’s 2011 supplements program
December 17 – The NRL announces its provisional findings against Cronulla, proposing the club be fined $1 million, Flanagan be suspended for 12 months, and the cancellation of former strength and conditioning coach Trent Elkin’s registration.
January 29, 2014 – Cronulla, Flanagan and Elkin lodge their responses to the NRL sanctions
March 5 – The NRL rejects appeals by the Sharks, Flanagan and Elkin, upholding its preliminary penalties handed down on December 17
March 14 – Flanagan drops threats of further appeal and legal action; accepts ban.
June 27 – Elkin given the green light to resume his career in the NRL from December 2015 after successfully appealing his indefinite suspension
August 20 – ASADA begin issuing 17 past and present Cronulla players show cause notices and gives them 10 days to respond