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Why NRL Players Take Drugs

Steroids and other PED (Performance Enhancing Drugs) exist in the athletic world but they’re not used systematically in most sports like the average lazy boy critic would like to think. Yes, lazy boy critics can and do become powerful humans without steroids when exposed to the right training methods!

This article is not about PED’s which are a trivial issue for the NRL in comparison to the real drug problem. The Real Big Deal is all the other drugs SOCIAL, PRESCRIPTION and OVER THE COUNTER that are a part of elite sports.

DISCLAIMER – THIS PIECE IS NOT ABOUT ONE PLAYER, ONE CLUB, ONE DOCTOR OR EVEN ONE SPORT. I’m questioning the whole system and the society that underpins it. We live in an age of infinite possibility and rapid change beyond what humanity has known for a very long time. “How can we do this better?” is a question that should be rattling around the brains of elite sport as it should for all of us. The industrial/technological age hasn’t brought the freedom and creativity it could and should have for humanity. Yet. I also challenge the assertion that the drugs I’m talking about are in sport to help teams win and athletes to be successful.

Read On If You’re Ready For Truth.

This issue is close to home because it became a life and death matter for me in my teens and early 20’s as I experienced some of the wraths of slipping into the SPORT DRUG rabbit hole.

THE STORY STARTS HERE… the kid plays hundreds of games for school, club, representative teams and eventually, makes his debut in the top grade. Usually, they are living with their families or surrogate families until they make it. This keeps some control over their food and lifestyle. Half the time now kids are already hooked on drugs by this stage if they’re not then they will be soon.

Then this is how it goes..

You make the team, you’re a celebrity. The goal is to WIN. The coach, the fans, the media, family… Everyone wants to see wins. When you’re winning you’re a hero.

Heroes make more money than they know what to do with, they party, they get the girls and go wild.

Going wild damages the body, together with the demands of training and games the body starts to break down. For some guys this happens almost straight away, others it takes a few years.

Some drink a lot. Some a little. A few not at all, interestingly we had a 100% fast on booze during the back end of our 2013 premiership winning campaign at the Roosters. A complete alcohol fast for that duration is an unprecedented sacrifice as far as I know in the NRL The discipline paid the ultimate dividend for the ambitions of our 2013 Roosters.


Alcohol depleted bodies leach away minerals, accumulate toxins and lose their vitality. Aches, pains and injuries follow.

Aches and pains are treated by anti-inflammatory medications. These medications are known to cause bleeding intestines and slow down the healing process in the body, not just at the injury site but systemically.

We know that most of the brains messenger molecules – neurotransmitters, are made in the gut. These molecules are responsible for mood and energy levels. Depression, anxiety and ultimately mental illness and suicide are now present in all elite sports teams.

If it’s not the anti-inflammatory drugs destroying the guts, it’s the antibiotics. They damage the gut microbiome the seat of health. Nobel Prize winner Eli Metchnikov said a long time ago that “Death begins in the gut”, modern science and health statistics agree.

Elite athletes are not immune to the troubles of society. In fact, they are even more vulnerable to them because of the drugged and socially unstable environment most of them live in.

The under-recovered athlete, can’t sleep because of the pain. Pain-killers come next, Panadol, then morphine based meds. You’ve probably heard the stories. Most players have experienced the cocktails of alcohol with prescription medications often dolled out like lollies by the team doctor. Doctors deal drugs, they don’t study nutrition, energy healing, wellness or behaviour change. They study drugs and then sell them on behalf of drug companies.

Still, this is often not enough.

Caffeine and adrenaline fuelled matches and the chance to party mean that often game night becomes party night. Rugby League used to be played mostly at 3 pm leaving time for socialising before getting a good night’s sleep. Now most players don’t leave the dressing rooms until after 10 pm most weekends. They can’t get to sleep after late games and so what next?

Sleepers. Anti-depressants.. 

Now some of you might be thinking these aren’t real drugs.

Yes, these are real drugs! The fact that the doctor is dealing/prescribing them doesn’t change that they are drugs with serious impacts on the wellness of athletes. And if one doctor doesn’t dish them out the next one will..

Living in the scenario I’ve described do you think cocaine and other social drugs are a big leap? Players are already used to massive highs, binge drinking, opiate sedation, feeling numb and feeling bulletproof.

These guys love to compete, on the field, in the gym, in the night club. One high leads to another like one beer leads to the next. “So What’s Next?”

Cocaine is lightweight next to the standard prescribed drug addictions running through elite sport.

As an aside… I spent 3 years in Latin America and chewed medicinal Coca leaves, commonly used by local workers and when travelling to altitude. The leaves are sold on super market shelves as tea and distributed by the government of Cuba and other countries. Coca tea is available in supermarkets. Cocaine is not coca leaf. It’s been treated with chemicals and worst is that it’s often mixed with other random white powders.

But really, why are we demonising one drug when the athlete is living in a drug smothered, alcohol-soaked environment to begin with.

Who’s Fault Is It?

Are the team doctors to blame? While great work is done in the area of sports medicine and orthopaedics the gaps in their education are so big that it’s no surprise many of them do a lot more damage than good. In my experience, they’ve all been way too ready to dole out scripts. You know what they say, “if your only tool is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail.” This is a systemic problem that no one doctor will change either.

Sometimes 1 or 2 players decide that they can also perform the role of the team doctor.

I know personally of a number of players who’ve warehoused their own supplies to distribute to senior and junior players depending on the occasion. Usually, these players have to be caught a number of times by their club or publicly before they’re sacked. Then problem moves to another club. Often the clubs player/dealer role is then taken up by his apprentice or another player.

The NRL player who doesn’t take drugs is the exception, they should be celebrated although I don’t personally know of any player who has taken the stand to avoid pharmaceuticals as well as alcohol 100% of the time.


  1. Alcohol is a major sponsor of the game.
  2. You would be hard-pressed to make a case against alcohol being the drug that does the MOST harm in society. NRL bills are paid by drug dealers.

Yes, it’s a legal drug, but it’s still a drug! Harmless? I bet you know more people who’ve ruined their lives or at least minimised their potential for contribution and greatness with alcohol than any other drug.

Gambling scandals?

Maybe the players should be banned from watching games on TV so they’re not constantly exposed to better and better advertising, by former players, enticing footy lovers to BET.

Shock Horror The Millions Of Dollars Invested In Advertising During The Footy Works!!

The NRL Is Reflecting Society. Why Do We Expect Athletes To Stand Above The Society They Grew Up In?

The changes required to shift the culture in elite sports are fundamental.

Are advertising dollars from alcohol and gambling any cleaner than CIGARETTE dollars?

One of my biggest motivations to leave the NRL was to move into a social environment where people were trying to be the best they could be in all aspects of life, not just the ones that are televised.

I’ll say it again, elite athletes reflect the environment they live in.

Athletes like Sonny Bill Williams and teams like the All-Blacks have set new standards around this culture. Things are changing slowly. I know that the Roosters have continued to work hard on this soft underbelly of NRL culture that undermines their performance and the collective mental strength.

There is a better way.

RealMOVEMENT was dedicated to human potentiation that goes beyond winning and losing. Wellness, Mindset, Movement and Community.

Focussing on a deeper change worked on at the Catalan’s Dragons and The SydneyRoosters and it’s what all our facilities are teaching to the thousands of RealMOVEMENT practitioners around the world. Some of the people our facilities work with are junior athletes, most of them are mums and dads who want to get the best out of themselves.

Is this a change we can create? The only way we’ll know is by wholeheartedly trying to create it.

Only when the goalposts of success have moved a long way from their current location can we expect to see athletes not taking drugs on a regular basis.
This is a societal challenge and one worth taking on. RealMOVEMENT was created to accelerate this change.

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About Keegan Smith

Keegan Smith (Coach KEEGAN), founder of RealMOVEMENT Project and author of Performance Coach Success Blueprint, is a performance coach educator who's worked with Premiership winning Sydney Roosters.

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