Guru: Steve Dank Photo: Tim Clayton
SPORTS science guru Steve Dank, who was Essendon's sports science chief last year, is a man who has long been at the cutting edge of sports science.
He first came to prominence in Australia as Des Hasler's chief boffin at NRL club Manly Sea Eagles.
It has been reported that under the guidance of physiologist Dank, who became Manly's director of sports science, that the Sea Eagles led the way in introducing DNA testing of players, GPS tracking to monitor performances at training and the use of herbal supplements, such as the $300 a litre anti-inflammatory product Lact-Away.
Hasler, who won two premierships with the Sea Eagles and took the Bulldogs to the grand final last season, is a keen student of sports science and technology that would give his teams the winning edge.
Dank was a significant player in the Sea Eagles' reputation as NRL leaders in sports science and, according to reports, was often seen relaying information from a laptop to Hasler about players' conditions.
Mystery has always surrounded Hasler's sports science departments, often deepened by the evasiveness of the coach and his staff when questioned.
When a story broke in 2008 that Manly was considering using a calf blood extract to help boost the endurance of its players, Dank said: ''I don't do media interviews. What the sports science department does stays in-house.''
In a response to questioning by Fairfax Media in 2009 about DNA testing on players, Dank's reply was limited to, ''It's all fairly top secret.''
Three years earlier, in 2005, he was prepared to talk to Fairfax Media when it published an article about the increasing interest in DNA testing of players in football codes.
Dank, who was then a sports scientist with Manly, spoke at length about the opportunities, but also unresolved questions, involving what was then a new practice.
''We wanted to acquire the sporting genetic profile, in other words, those genes that are most applicable to sporting performance, and by giving us this profile we could have a look at the physiological range that the athletes were most adaptable to,'' Dank said.
''Some players can run 100 kilometres a week and it didn't seem to improve their fitness much at all and then there are other athletes who did very little during the week and yet on game day would find themselves as fit and performing as well as any one else on the field.
''I wasn't too sure why and then the last couple of years the light bulb struck a little bit that maybe the reason was that most of this was genetically oriented - [where] you only improve your fitness, or aspects of your physiology, so much.''
An article published in Sydney's Daily Telegraph in 2008 reported that Dank was a ''suited Sydney physiologist who attends every Manly training session'' and who ''travels the globe, employs three assistants and refuses to share his knowledge with anyone''.
Manly officials said they never had any concerns about the use of supplements by players while Dank was involved with the club.
''Steve was employed as a consultant between 2006 and 2010. During that time, we never had any concerns,'' Manly football manager Steve Gigg said. ''We always complied with all anti-doping protocols of the WADA Code and the NRL.''
The NRL is expected to follow the Essenden case closely but does not outlaw supplements by players, although their use is not encouraged.
With BRAD WALTER