Parramatta Eel Michael Jennings has vowed to clear his name after returning a positive test to two banned substances saying he was ‘totally against any form of cheating’.
Michael Jennings will fight to clear his name and prevent his 14-year NRL career ending with him being labelled a drug cheat.
In a major scandal for the NRL, the 32-year-old Parramatta star has been suspended after being informed by government officials that he had tested positive to two banned substances.
The agents from Sports Integrity Australia dropped the bombshell on Jennings — and the entire code — by knocking on the front door of his Western Sydney home just before 7am on Saturday.
The agents seized his mobile phone and laptop computer for forensic analysis. They may also be used to discover how the banned supplements entered Jennings’ system.
Jennings has the right to have his B-sample analysed but faces a four-year ban from all sports if he is proven guilty of an anti-doping violation.
Teammates and close friends of the former NSW State of Origin and Australian Test centre said he was virtually inconsolable.
“I am totally against any form of cheating in sport and am completely shocked to find myself in this position,’’ Jennings said in a prepared statement.
“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.
“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.”
Jennings is alleged to have returned a positive reading to two separate banned substances, one of which is Ligandrol and the other is a growth hormone.
He was tested on September 21, with Sports Integrity Australia learning of the positive result on Friday.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo was only informed at the same time the agents were arriving at Jennings’ home.
Abdo said SIA had cleared the Eels and any other player of any involvement.
“Sports Integrity Australia runs this process and we co-operate with them,’’ Abdo said.
“They told us this is part of a random drug-testing, it wasn’t targeted, there’s no absolutely no indication there’s other players or the club involved.
“It’s two separate substances and they are both on the specified list and the process is a mandatory provisional suspension.
“He obviously has his rights, but first and foremost we have made sure he’s getting the necessary support.
“We’ll work with Sports Integrity to ensure this moves as quick as possible, but it’s obviously disappointing.’’
News of Jennings’ suspension stunned most within the game given his lengthy career and widely-regarded solid character.
At 32, Jennings had missed just one game this season and ironically Saturday’s elimination final against South Sydney at Bankwest Stadium was set to be his 299th NRL match.
“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.’’
Jennings began his career with Penrith in 2007, spending six seasons with the Panthers before shifting to the Sydney Roosters for a three-year stint.
He joined the Eels in 2016 and is contracted to the club until the end of 2022.
The fear for Jennings and his lawyer — prominent Melbourne-based SC Ben Ihle — is the prospect of a long, drawn-out defence.
NRL & Drugs Problems
Bronson Xerri: Sharks May 2019
Returned a positive A-sample “for exogenous testosterone, androsterone, etiocholanolone and 5b-androstane-3a, 17b-diol” on November 25, 2019. He is challenging the decision with the NRL anti-doping tribunal.
James Segeyaro: Broncos, October 2018
Provisionally suspended by the NRL under the league’s anti-doping policy after testing positive for di-hydroxy LGD-4033, a banned substance. Appealing at the tribunal.
Martin Kennedy: Roosters, March 2015
In January 2016, the NRL tribunal found Kennedy guilty of attempting to use four banned substances in the 2012 off-season.
Sandor Earl: Raiders, August 2013
Stood down in August of 2013 for using and trafficking a synthetic growth hormone. Banned for four years. Made a comeback with Storm in 2018.
Reni Maitua: Sharks, June 2008
Tested positive to clenbuterol in 2008 while playing with Cronulla. Claimed it was due to illicit drug use. Served a two-year ban before returning to the NRL with Parramatta in 2011.
Robbie O’Davis: Knights, June 1999
Knights fullback O’Davis failed a drugs test and claimed it was triggered by a dietary supplement rather than intentional cheating. The 1997 Clive Churchill medallist was banned for 22 matches before returning in 1999.
Adam McDougall: Knights, July 1998
Tested positive to ephedrine and amfepramone in July of 1998. He plead guilty to using one banned substance and inadvertently using another. Banned for 11 matches before returning in 1999.
Rodney Howe: Storm, 1998
The Test and Origin prop tested positive to stanozolol, an anabolic steroid he used to treat a leg injury. Banned for 22 matches, Howe returned midway through 1999.
It could be more than 12 months before an outcome in his case is determined.
He will remain suspended throughout the process, decreasing his chances of making a comeback, even with a not guilty finding.
The Eels said they would support Jennings via a statement.
“The club has been in contact with Michael and has offered him and his family our full welfare support as he deals with this situation.” the statement read.
The staggering development comes at a time when Jennings is also dealing with an issue in his personal life.
The league star is in a legal dispute, believed to be over property, with his ex-wife Kirra Wilden in a civil case at the Sydney District Court.
MELBOURNE LEGAL BIG GUN TO TAKE JENNINGS CASE
THE prominent lawyer who represented 34 Essendon players during the 2013 peptide scandal will attempt to prove Parramatta’s Michael Jennings’ innocence.
Melbourne-based SC, Ben Ihle, was engaged by Jennings just hours after learning of his anti-doping breach.
Ihle has represented athletes in some of Australia’s biggest doping cases, including Commonwealth Games and Olympians, but most notably, players involved in the Essendon drugs scandal that rocked the AFL.
Importantly for Jennings, Ihle also has intimate knowledge of anti-doping legislation having represented ASADA in the case against former St Kilda player Ahmed Saad.
Outside of sport, he recently assisted in Victoria’s COVID-19 hotel quarantine inquiry.
Ihle was chosen by Jennings and his agent Isaac Moses after the former NSW State of Origin star was suspended by the NRL after an A-sample test returned a positive reading to two banned substances.
The News can also reveal Sports Integrity Australia dropped the bombshell on Jennings 12-hours before he was due to play for Parramatta because they didn’t want him scoring tries after he had knowingly tested positive to a banned substance.
Australia’s sporting watchdog has been subject to widespread criticism from NRL fans as to why they chose the morning of the elimination final between the Eels and Rabbitohs to rock the entire code.
Sharks CEO Dino Mezzatesta also entered the furore by questioning why it took SIA 18-days between Jennings’ test and his A-sample being declared positive compared to the six months between the test and public notice of Cronulla’s Bronson Xerri’s doping violation.
“There are questions that deserve to be answered about the timeline of what the case related to our club took and now this,’’ Mezzatesta said.
“I appreciate they have a job to do, but I can understand why the public are in the dark when they see the large disparity in timing over the cases.’’
SIA rarely, if at all, speak publicly on individual cases, but The Sunday Telegraph has learned SIA confronted Jennings a day after receiving his positive result.
An NRL statement confirmed the timeline of when Jennings was tested.
“Mr Jennings was tested by Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) on 21 September 2020 with the positive result received by SIA on (Friday) 9 October 2020,’’ the statement read.