A group of Auckland-based rugby league players has been stood down from international duties for abusing prescription drugs during a night out, reports said yetserday.
Six players were dropped from the Auckland Warriors, who play in the Australian National Rugby League, last week and subsequently barred from this weekend’s international matches over their conduct.
The New Zealand Herald reported that five of them had admitted taking a cocktail of sleeping pills and energy drinks. It said the players who made admissions were New Zealanders Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino and Bodene Thompson, along with Samoa representative Sam Lisone and Tonga’s Albert Vete.
Another Tongan player, Konrad Hurrell, reportedly tagged along as the group’s driver.
New Zealand national coach Stephen Kearney said he decided to leave the three Kiwis out of Friday’s Test against Australia after consultation with the Warriors. “It is important that Test match football is the pinnacle of our game... if there are issues at club level ... we will make the appropriate decisions accordingly,” he said.”
The mix of sleeping pills and energy drinks reportedly achieves an amphetamine-like high without breaching doping rules.
Similar substance abuse was suspected on the eve of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup final, when the Kiwis crumbled 34-2 to Australia in a lacklustre display.
The latest incident came when the Warriors players went out the day after their team’s 42-0 defeat to the Melbourne Storm last week.
“It’s an issue we had after the last World Cup and we have a stance on the issue,” NZRL acting chief executive Alex Hayton told Radio Sport.
“So based on the information we had from the Warriors the decision was taken not to select those players.”  
Hayton did not know when the banned players would be allowed back, saying the Warriors were leading the investigation into their behaviour.
“It’s not just a rugby league issue. It’s an issue that’s across professional sport,” he added.
New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) revealed in 2014 that All Blacks Cory Jane and Israel Dagg took prescription sleeping pills while on a night out in Auckland during the 2011 World Cup.
Sleeping pill abuse has also been a problem for Australian swimmers, including triple Olympic gold medallist Grant Hackett, who sought treatment for addiction to sleeping medication Stilnox.  
The same drug was at the centre of a scandal involving the Australian men’s swim relay team at the London 2012 Olympics, when they used it at a “bonding session” and misbehaved at their living quarters.