Injuries took their toll on Jarrod Mullen
RUGBY LEAGUE: For my first column of 2017 I was tempted to suggest names of NRL players who might be the first to blot their copybook in the new year.
Discretion, however, became the better part of valour. As someone who has earned a living since 1980 from the sport I love, I decided not to start my 38th year covering the game on a negative note.
But there was no need to worry about my negativity tarnishing the game. The new year is not yet a month old and already James Roberts, Josh Papalii, Chris Sandow, Jarrod Mullen and Kyle Lovett have put their names up in lights.
Admittedly Roberts, Mullen and Lovett are still in the "innocent until found guilty” file, but the adverse publicity already generated has further tarnished the NRL brand. And sadly for a so-called professional sport, it's a black eye that is now never unexpected.
But, in the case of Jarrod Mullen, his brush with authorities is one from left field. On a list of 100 potential NRL law-breakers, his name would have been at the bottom.
For those who are unaware, the Newcastle playmaker has tested positive to steroids and faces a four-year ban. And, at 29, that would end his career.
Like his predecessor in the halves at Newcastle, Andrew Johns, Mullen was a local hero. But unlike Johns, until now he had a clean slate off the field and on the social front.
What, however, was not clean, was his medical record, particularly in recent years. He suffered from chronic hamstring issues and last year ripped his hamstring from the bone, which required surgery and sidelined him for three months.
During pre-season training in November, he tore the hamstring again. A week later he was tested by ASADA officials and the anabolic steroid Drostanolone, a performance-enhancing substance, was found in his system.
In short, Mullen is gone. Even if he rolls over to ASADA and dobs in those who supplied the drug, even a two-year suspension from any sport anywhere in the world would mean his career is still as good as over.
During his 211-game NRL stint, which kicked off when Mullen was just 17, we met just a few times. And he was one of those guys who made an immediate - and positive - impression.
Not only was Mullen an exceptional player who was often struck down when at his peak, but he was a terrific young bloke. He was extremely well regarded by his club hierarchy and teammates, and the people of Newcastle.
If he took the steroid knowingly, Mullen has obviously rolled the dice. We can only assume that so frustrated was he, he decided on a radical course of action - with a massive risk.
And while he can expect little sympathy for being so reckless, Mullen's other option was to sit back, still copping the $750,000 a season he was being paid by the Knights, and keep playing Russian roulette with his hamstring issues.
But that wasn't the Jarrod Mullen way. He wanted to earn his money.