When Cronulla found out Bronson Xerri was going to speak for the first time about his positive drugs test, club bosses were in a flap.
According to sources at the NRL, Sharks chief executive Dino Mezzatesta was straight on the phone to the heavy hitters at Moore Park when he heard I was going to talk to Xerri. The Sharks clearly feared what he would say about the club, which has had its governance questioned many times during the past decade.
Bronson Xerri says his dream is to get back on the field.Credit:NRL Photos
Cronulla know how bad it looks that their best young player would be in such a desperate place that he would use banned substances. Because when Xerri tells his full story we will hear about a player who was dealing with a shoulder injury that required two operations, the first real setback of his young career. He felt alone and unsupported. In the background, his brother was dealing with a manslaughter charge, which came just 11 days before his positive test.
To say he was in a bad place is an understatement. He went for the quick fix on his shoulder. I have been told by sources close to him that it wasn’t a bid for extra speed, endurance or performance. It was a one-off shortcut to recover from a serious injury.
I am not excusing his behaviour; I am presenting for the first time the situation that Xerri faced.
Xerri was provisionally suspended in May under the NRL’s anti-doping policy after he returned a positive A sample for exogenous testosterone, androsterone, etiocholanolone and 5b-androstane-3a,17b-diol from a test on November 25, 2019. He is awaiting the outcome of an appeal.
‘I have learnt a lot from this and I hope that one day people will forgive me because I am sorry.’
“It’s not what people think,” Xerri told me during the week.
I don’t know if he was getting any support from the Sharks when he was going through surgery, but the club was in touch with Xerri when he lay in bed for weeks after his positive test not wanting to face the world. Xerri says the NRL has not been in contact with him. The NRL says it definitely reached out to offer support.
It’s an interesting point because Sam Burgess also complained that he had not been supported by the NRL. Interestingly, on Friday Burgess was acquitted on appeal of intimidating his former father-in-law, Mitchell Hooke.
People may think Xerri deserves what he gets but if it was a one-off – as I have been told it was – he deserves ongoing support from the NRL. He is only 20 and Xerri is not asking for sympathy.
“My headspace was pretty bad, but I am working on things and I’m a lot better than I was,” he said. “I just want to say that this was my mistake, no one else’s. Not my family. I love my family and the reason I want to play again is to make them proud. I know I have let my family down and I have lost friends over all this. But at least I know who my friends are.
“I have learnt a lot from this and I hope that one day people will forgive me because I am sorry. I made a bad decision when I was in a bad place.
“Most hurtful to Xerri was the inference that his family contributed to his predicament. That’s why he took the extraordinary step of admitting his mistake even before his final appeal has been resolved by the NRL’s anti-doping tribunal. He wants to put an end to attacks on his family and suggestions of long-term drug use, particularly a media report implying that he was using performance-enhancing drugs “for years”. He says he is considering his legal options.
Sprint coach Roger FabriCredit:James Brickwood
In the coming days we will learn why Cronulla are nervous. Only the Sharks know how much emotional support they were giving Xerri when he was out injured. I’ve seen all of Xerri’s physical results from that time and the club was monitoring his performances very closely. There were no red flags. He had also been drug-tested on a regular basis. He was tested soon after he produced the positive and nothing showed up.
One person in regular contact with Xerri is his sprint coach, Roger Fabri.
“I suffer from mental health [problems]. I’ve been there when no one wants to know you, ” Fabri said. “This will pass for him, but he needs people to guide him through and if I can help him, I will.“
Next for Xerri is finding alternative work. “But football has been my life since I was five,” he said. “My dream is to get out there again.”
Greg Inglis’ legacy has been tarnished by some well-planned South Sydney spin when it comes to Adam Reynolds’ contract situation.
The Bunnies don’t want to give Reynolds a long-term deal and previous contract mistakes have been used to justify their decision.
The line driven into the media is that the long-term deals signed with Sam Burgess and Inglis cost Souths $4 million. Burgess was well within his rights to claim a medical retirement. And Inglis could have explored that idea, but instead quit the game with about $1.3 million owed to him. Yes, he was given a job with Souths, but that did not last when his mental health issues became too much.
So to say that Inglis cost the club because of a long-term deal gone wrong is just plain unfair on Inglis. He should be praised for walking away from that much money.
Russell Crowe was eager to make a “60-8” T-shirt to celebrate the Rabbitohs’ victory over the Roosters last year but would Wayne Bennett have been keen on the idea?Credit:Getty
Rusty keeps score
Souths owner Russell Crowe proposed a “60-8” T-shirt to celebrate (rub in) the Rabbitohs’ victory over the Roosters in round 20 last year. It was a cherished night for Souths fans.
The club has scrapped the idea because they couldn’t get the shirts ready quickly enough. I wonder if Wayne Bennett said the Rabbitohs didn’t need to give their arch-rivals any extra motivation. There is already antagonism between the clubs, given the Roosters snared Joseph Suaalii from Redfern. Crowe was the brains behind the Rabbitohs’ COVID-19 face masks. They sold 11,000 of them.
Pledge of honour
The process to allow Joseph Suaalii to play in the NRL was a thorough one. Andrew Abdo got his hands dirty on this one, interviewing the headmaster at The King’s School, making sure there were independent physical and mental examinations, that the Roosters mentoring was up to speed, and the club was well placed to help Suaalii if there was gambling or alcohol in his presence.
However, the biggest question was always going to be Suaalii’s long-term commitment to the sport.
“I’ve been playing it since I was four, so it’s all I’ve done since I was young,” Suaalii told me.
I then asked if he had turned his back on rugby completely. “Yeah, well now I’m just focused on playing at the Roosters and just trying to be as best as I can be here,” he said. “So that’s all I’m focused on at the moment.”
The NRL must be happy with that commitment or it would not have invested so heavily in making sure he could play.
The man behind The Man
Anthony Mundine said his final goodbye to professional sport last weekend in a way I always feared he would but hoped he wouldn’t: floored in little more than two minutes into the opening round of a nondescript fight.
When he took up boxing after walking out on the Dragons midway through the 2000 NRL season there was a worldwide media hunt for him.
When he posed for a photo in San Francisco after The Sun-Herald tracked him down it was huge news. When he fought a washed-up Gerrard Zohs in his first fight, the who’s who of the sporting world were there to watch the most controversial sportsman of his time in his new pursuit. When Sven Ottke – one of the premier fighters of his time – flattened him in the 10th round of their IBF super-middleweight world title fight in Germany in 2001, people printed T-shirts of Mundine flat on his back. When he became a world champion in 2003 by beating brutal American Antwun Echols his career hit a high. The Danny Green fight at the Sydney Football Stadium in 2006 in front of 30,000 was another special night.
That was 15 years ago. I told Mundine to stop before he damaged his legacy, but he has never been one to listen. I haven’t been to a Mundine fight in years, mainly because I didn’t want to see him get hurt; selfishly, I wanted to remember him for the fighter he was, not the KOs of recent years.
It’s the stories outside the arena that stick with me: the “old legs” comment about a 27-year-old Laurie Daley in 1997; flying overseas to bring back a “love sick” Solomon Haumono; his “sex ban”; the league walkout; and many more.
I have no real love of boxing, but he dragged me along for the wild ride, giving me some of my fondest days as a reporter. I shed a tear when he beat Echols – the most emotion I’ve felt at a sporting event. And he provided me with one of my toughest days: my late father told me never to speak to Mundine again after his comments about the 9/11 attack in the US.
On the only occasion I met Kerry Packer he wanted to talk about sport, and he was most interested in Mundine.
I could go on forever, but it’s best to say there were two Mundines: “The Man”, the outspoken athlete whose mouth polarised the nation; and “Choc”, the kind-hearted, generous, cheeky, quietly spoken man who always made time for his family and those who needed a helping hand.
I was lucky enough to know both of them, and grateful that he let me close enough to know the man behind The Man.
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