FIVE Cronulla NRL players are understood to have until the weekend to accept backdated drug-related suspensions but only if they plead guilty to being part of an illegal supplements program conducted by the club's staff in the early stages of season 2011.
Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority issued 17 past and current players with show-cause notices after an 18-month investigation which started with a warning it could lead to the "blackest day" in Australian sport.
"(The) Players have been offered a proposal regarding a possible suspension, which they need to consider before the weekend, with the players to consult with their legal representatives over the next two days in relation to their individual circumstances," the Cronulla Sharks website reported today.
It is understood the players have been offered a 12-month suspension, backdated until November 1, 2013 under the condition they plead guilty to using banned substances, an offence which usually carries a two-year ban for any sportsman or sportswoman.
If they take ASADA's one-year offer, they would be suspended immediately.
ASADA chief Ben McDevitt signed off on the 17 show-cause notices and the players and their legal representative met on Wednesday to consider their options.
Victorious NSW State of Origin captain Paul Gallen is not believed to be one of the five Sharks players offered to backdated deal.
He and 11 others have 10 days to lodge an objection with ASADA as to why they should not be issued with infraction notices by the national drug watchdog.
If ASADA rejects their submissions they will be placed on its register of findings, the NRL will then be notified and they will be called to appear before it's Anti-Doping Tribunal.
Some of the players at the centre of ASADA's supplements probe, which led to Cronulla being fined and coach Shane Flanagan suspended, have retired while others are dispersed with clubs around the NRL.
ASADA top-level investigations are understood to have focused on the first 11 rounds of the 2011 season and in particular players who were involved in games between rounds two to five.
The NRL hit Cronulla with a $1 million fine and suspended Flanagan last December for a breach of its code of conduct and for the failure of "certain individuals" who had a responsibility to safeguard the health and welfare of its players.
The NRL confirmed ASADA had held a series of meetings yesterday today with former and current players and their legal representatives.
"We are aware that ASADA has commenced the process of issuing show cause notices to certain players who were at the Cronulla Club in 2011," an NRL spokesman said in a prepared statement.
"This is a process that may or may not lead to players being placed on the register of findings.
"This process is governed by the National Anti-Doping Scheme and players have been invited to make submissions to ASADA in response to the notices."
ASADA, Cronulla and the NRL all said they would be making no further comment.
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