The use of recreational drugs after NRL grand finals is common and rugby league fans should not be surprised by Ben Barba’s positive test, ex-NRL star Jason Donnelly says.
Barba tested positive for cocaine in the aftermath of Cronulla’s incredible drought-breaking triumph over the Melbourne Storm in this year’s NRL decider.
The star full-back – who has been plagued by off-field issues throughout his career – was released by Cronulla this week and faces a 12-match NRL ban.
He has walked away from the game, heading to Thailand for rehabilitation but Donnelly – who played for St. George, Canterbury and New Zealand – said that “society is society” and that players experimenting with party drugs after the last match of the season did not shock him at all.
“Cocaine is everywhere after grand finals,” Donnelly told AAP.
“I’m not casting judgement … it’s just reality.
“Why do you think the NRL tests for recreational drugs?
“Society is society and back when I was playing, you knew it would get out of your system in 48 hours.
“That’s what all the breaking your back for all year is: to have just maybe one night where you’d party all night and let your hair down.”
Donnelly insists he never used recreational drugs during his playing career, but that use was widespread.
And he does not believe that culture has changed, stating that he thought the use of party drugs among players “is rife”.
“I was too focused, obsessed, growing up on being an athlete,” he added.
“I wanted to go to the Olympics [Donnelly was talented in decathlon as a youngster in New Zealand].
“The first time I was involved in a grand final, I was a bit overawed. I was only 21 and had come over from New Zealand.
“So then after the grand final, to see all the cocaine use was a bit of a surprise.
“There’s no way that drug testing is random. I was targeted because of my size to height but never failed any of the six or so tests I ever had.
“But I know teammates who were never tested.
“Ben Barba’s 12-match suspension is what he deserves but I think it [use of illicit drug use within players] is rife.”
Why Barba’s issues may have escaped attention
Michael Ennis, a premiership teammate of Barba’s this year at Cronulla, told Fox Sports News that the news of Barba’s positive test – and release from his contract – was surprising.
But he said that due to the demands placed on players, problems could go under the radar until the pressure valve of playing was lifted.
“We play in such a high intensity environment whether that be at training or the games,” Ennis said.
“So much goes into a rugby league season these days with commitments that are required.
“Sometimes you get so self-consumed by your performance and training, plus whilst you’re winning and everything’s going well, like we had at the Sharks this year, things can tend to linger underneath or sneak up on you.
“That’s obviously what’s happened with Ben this year.
“From an outsider, he looked in a tremendous headspace and his body language and his energy around training [was great].”
Ennis added that he had seen Barba before he headed for Thailand for rehabilitation and said that he looked “relieved” that the issue was out in the open.
“He looked like he was really ready to take on what’s ahead of him in Thailand so I thought that was a really encouraging sign,” he added.