Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed his shock that prodigious talent Bronson Xerri has been provisionally suspended from the NRL after he failed a drug test.
Xerri tested positive to four banned substances when tested last November, but was only notified and provisionally banned on Tuesday by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority - just two days out from the season's resumption.
‘TRYING TO CREATE HEADLINES’: Gallen slams ASADA over drug saga
The 19-year-old flyer did not play a game in that time, after missing the opening two rounds due to a shoulder injury.
But Morrison, a passionate Cronulla Sharks fan, revealed he was stunned at the news on the eve of the NRL restart on Thursday.
"As a Sharks fan I'm obviously disappointed and I'm sure the players and the club officials are disappointed," Morrison said on Sky News.
"But there is an ASADA process that is ongoing and I don't want pre-judge that.
"Bronson is an incredibly talented young footballer, he made his debut last year and was electrifying to watch.
"It would appear based on what we have seen that there have been some terrible judgments on his part."
But Morrison accepted ASADA’s initial findings and backed a clean game of rugby league.
“But there's no place for drugs in sport, doesn’t matter whether it's in my team or anyone else's team,” he added.
“We don't want drugs in sport. And that's the key message.”
NRL stars slam ASADA timing
The ASADA has come under fire for taking six months to notify Xerri he had tested positive to performance-enhancing drugs.
The delay has drawn criticism from former Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen, and now NRL veteran James Graham.
So far, ASADA has refused to respond to requests for an explanation, however former chief Richard Ings claimed on Twitter on Tuesday the timeline was not crazy.
He claimed the wide variety of banned substances detected, Christmas, the bushfires and COVID-19 could all have slowed down the process.
But Gallen, who was at the Sharks during the 2011 peptides scandal and was one of 10 players stood down by ASADA in 2014, accused the body of chasing headlines.
"I think it's pretty clear that I'm not a fan of ASADA due to what we went through all those years ago," he told 2GB on Tuesday night.
"Are they really there for the good of the game? Are they really trying to catch people doing the wrong thing or are they just there to create headlines?"
The timeline is also confusing for Dragons prop Graham, who said he could not understand why ASADA would let an athlete with a positive sample potentially play for six months.
"Personally, I've probably got more questions for ASADA than I do Bronson Xerri at the moment," Graham said on NRL 360.
"I'm struggling to get my head around how they let a player who has provided a positive test potentially play for six months.
"I'm dumbfounded for that. I'd have plenty of questions for ASADA."