Michael Jennings has vehemently denied knowingly taking prohibited substances and vowed to clear his name, declaring: “I would never do anything to jeopardise my standards, my reputation, or the legacy I leave, especially for my son.”
Sport Integrity Australia officials seized Jennings’ phone and computer when they informed the Parramatta centre he had tested positive for two performance-enhancing substances on Saturday morning.
Jennings returned a positive A sample for LGD-4033 (Ligandrol) and its metabolite Di-hydroxy-LGD-4033, and also Ibutamoren and its metabolites Desbenzyl Ibutamoren and OH Ibutamoren. Ligandrol is the substance for which swimmer Shayna Jack and former Brisbane hooker James Segeyaro tested positive. The other substance is a growth hormone.
Each of those substances is prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the NRL’s anti-doping policy.
In a statement issued by his management, Jennings said he was shocked by the result.
“I am totally against any form of cheating in sport and am completely shocked to find myself in this position,” Jennings said.
“I will do everything I can to clear my name. I have dedicated the last 14 years of my life to playing in the NRL. I would never do anything to jeopardise my standards, my reputation, or the legacy I leave, especially for my son.”
The development came just hours before news broke that Tristan Sailor, an emerging NRL player and son of league legend Wendell Sailor, was charged with the aggravated sexual assault of a 24-year-old woman in southern Sydney last weekend.
Jennings, who has the right to request that his B sample be tested, is facing a ban of up to four years. Any suspension will likely end his career, given he turned 32 in April.
Jennings was tested by Sport Integrity Australia on September 21 with the positive result received by the organisation on October 9. Jennings was rested for the match against the Wests Tigers a few days after the test to allow him to get over a niggling injury.
This is a really difficult time for me and my family, but I will work with Sports Integrity Australia to progress this case and clear my name.Michael Jennings
Jennings was immediately ruled ineligible for Saturday’s semi-final clash with South Sydney and is prohibited from participating in any WADA-compliant sport, including rugby league, while the provisional suspension is in place.
“I am completely shattered that I won’t be able to play with my team tonight,” Jennings said. “We have worked so hard to get where we are. I have every faith in the boys and wish them the best.
“This is a really difficult time for me and my family, but I will work with Sport Integrity Australia to progress this case and clear my name.”
Jennings is expected to turn to Ben Ihle, the man who acted for Essendon during their supplements scandal, for legal advice.
The Eels were already struggling to field a back line for Saturday’s finals clash against South Sydney. Blake Ferguson and Maika Sivo were ruled out with knee injuries, the former on the eve of the match. The NRL gave Parramatta dispensation to call up Haze Dunster into their 19-man squad, despite the fact he didn’t make the cut the previous evening. The 21-year-old is now likely to make his NRL debut in a sudden-death finals game.
The statement from Jennings’ management added: “The substances which SIA alleges were found in Michael’s sample are ones which have been detected in more and more athletes’ samples over recent years, often in cases where inadvertent contamination is to blame, because they are increasingly finding their way into even reputable dietary and vitamin supplements.”
The statement went on to quote the chief executive of US Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, who has previously spoken about the need to treat each case on its merit, given potential contamination issues.
“Michael is hopeful that the same approach will be taken by SIA in his case,” the statement said.
Jennings’ suspension is the latest in a string of drug scandals to rock the NRL. Cronulla star Bronson Xerri has been suspended after he returned a positive A sample for exogenous testosterone, androsterone, etiocholanolone and 5b-androstane-3a,17b-diol from a test on November 25 last year. The Sharks speedster, one of the game's brightest prospects, will front the NRL's anti-doping tribunal in coming weeks.
Segeyaro fronted the tribunal earlier this month after testing positive for Ligandrol in September 2019 and is awaiting its decision.
Sam Burgess has also stepped down from his role as coaching assistant at South Sydney after the NRL and police launched separate probes into allegations of drug use and domestic violence.
Source - SMH - https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/parramatta-star-suspended-after-testing-positive-to-performance-enhancing-drugs-20201010-p563tn.html
By Adrian Proszenko