Cronulla Sharks player Ben Barba has been axed following positive drug test just four days after the team’s maiden victory.
“Last Friday we were approached by the player and his management, advising us that Ben wished to seek a release from his contract to step outside the game,” said Lyall Gorman, chief executive at the team.
“The player is currently offshore with our head of welfare, in a centre undergoing an intensive program that … will hopefully help him start to address the personal issues that are so relevant to him and his ongoing future,” said Gorman.
“Whether he’s got carried away with the celebrations, [I] don’t know the exact circumstances of when this occurred.
“There’s no-one more disappointed than me. I’ve spent a lot of time with Benny, I’ve become very close to him and to say that I’m personally distressed by this outcome would be an understatement.”
The NRL also banned Barba from 12 games for a second breach of the league’s illicit substance policy.
“This is an incredibly difficult situation for Ben, his family and our club and all involved with it,” Gorman said.
“Ben has made a remarkable contribution to our club and community since joining it. It is, however, something we believe and accept is absolutely necessary in order to assist Ben to work through the challenges at hand.
“While Ben will be a major loss to our football club, the far greater priority is for him to focus on his long-term future away from football and we will continue to support Ben throughout that process in any way we can.”
In a statement, Barba said he was grateful for the team’s support and hoped to “return to the game at some stage”.
“I know and accept I need to take some time away from the game to deal with some personal issues,” the 27-year-old said in a statement.
“I am accountable for myself and my actions and if I don’t address them now I will certainly ruin my career and more importantly my life and that of my family.”