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Rise of top-line star fuels Smith's suspicions of murky world

Former NRL coach Brian Smith.

Former NRL coach Brian Smith. Photo: Getty Images

FORMER Roosters, Parramatta, Dragons and Newcastle coach Brian Smith has opened up on his suspicions of performance-enhancing drug use in the NRL, casting doubt on one current leading player.

Smith, now a part-time assistant at Super Rugby team the Brumbies, weighed into the scandal surrounding the Australian Crime Commission's findings on sport, explaining his eyes had been opened to the murky world of illegal substances in rugby league more than a decade ago.

The 58-year-old, sacked by the Roosters last September with a year to go on his deal at Moore Park, also revealed suspicions about one of the competition's present elite players.

Rodney Howe playing for Australia in 1998.

Rodney Howe playing for Australia in 1998. Photo: Getty Images

''A pretty fair player who fitted the 'before' photo in a body-building mag left my club as we did not think he would get 'the rig necessary to cut it in the NRL'. To our surprise, he bobbed up at another club just a couple of seasons later looking like the 'after' photo!'' Smith wrote in an online column.

''He has absolutely carved it and is now one of the top line in our sport. Did he cheat to get there? I have no proof. Perhaps the latest big investigation will uncover the validity of these types of accusations or innuendoes to clear that player or condemn those who have taken the short cut.''

As many as seven NRL clubs are thought to be implicated in the ACC findings on drug use, match fixing and links between Australian sport and organised crime. Smith, whose first-grade coaching career stretches back to 1984, delivered his views in a piece for the website The Roar. He reveals he had first been made aware that the sport was not entirely clean in the late 1990s when he was coach of the Eels.

''I had a wake-up call about this in my time at Parramatta,'' Smith said. ''A rival club's new wonder boy was carving up the comp in the front row with almost superhuman efforts week on week. This guy had been a run-of-the-mill reserve grader for a couple of seasons but now he was selected for State of Origin.

''I went to the SFS to watch him and only him, and my eyes nearly popped. The following day I called a meeting with staff and all the front-rowers explaining fully what I had seen and what was now to become the standard required at Parra.

''As you will have guessed by now, within a short time the wonder guy was done for prohibited drug use.''

That player, it is assumed, is Rodney Howe, the former Melbourne, NSW and Australia prop who in 1998 was banned for 22 matches after testing positive to the banned steroid stanozolol.

NRL clubs are expected to be told by Tuesday whether they have players accused of doping. Auditors have already been sent to Manly, Cronulla, Penrith and Newcastle, leading to speculation they are among the clubs being investigated. There are rumours that at least one big-name player is bracing himself being targeted as a result of the ACC report.

 

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