The NRL has been rocked with teenage Cronulla star Bronson Xerri facing a possible four-year ban after testing positive to banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Just two days out from the season restart, 19-year-old Xerri was provisionally suspended by the NRL on Tuesday after it was revealed he tested positive for anabolic steroids on November 25.
It’s understood both the NRL and Cronulla were notified of the positive sample by Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) on Tuesday morning, before swift action was taken.
“The Sharks have today been made aware of the provisional suspension handed down to Bronson Xerri under the NRL’s Anti-Doping Policy,” Cronulla said in a statement.
“Bronson has been stood down from training and playing responsibilities while the process runs its course, which under the policy includes the opportunity to have his B-sample analysed.
“The club has been in contact with Bronson.”
Xerri has played just 22 NRL matches but is considered one of the sport’s most exciting young stars.
He underwent a shoulder reconstruction in October after his first full season in first grade, and gave the positive sample the following month.
Just two months ago Cronulla let representative veteran Josh Morris go, with Xerri and fellow youngster Jesse Ramien seen as their future in the centres.
Renowned as one of the quickest players in the league, Xerri was due to make his return for Cronulla against the Wests Tigers on Saturday.
The news came as a shock to the Sharks, who were forced into a backline reshuffle on Tuesday with Josh Dugan and Ramien in the centres, and Will Kennedy at fullback with Matt Moylan on an extended bench.
The Cronulla junior has not played since the test in November, and the six-month gap between providing the positive sample and being notified is not considered unusual.
It was only on Monday that an excited Xerri told reporters how he had improved his sprint times during the coronavirus shutdown.
The Cronulla centre said he had been working alongside one of the country’s best sprint coaches, Roger Fabris, three times a week to improve his speed.
“Basically that whole period off I was just doing sprint training and working on my game,” Xerri said.
“He (Fabri) helped me a lot.
“I think he timed me from my first session to my last session, and it was a massive improvement.
“Even in my technique, Roger said my technique was unreal and how much I have improved.”
In that same interview, Xerri was asked about his prospects of playing State of Origin.
“It’s unreal just to be mentioned in that way,” he said. “Origin is at the end of the year and if that comes it’s unreal, that’s a goal of mine.”
The players’ association said it was working with Xerri and his management regarding legal representation and support for the youngster and stressed the provisional suspension did not represent an admission of guilt or wrongdoing.