That cocktail of performance-enhancing substances immediately raised the curiosity of doping experts.
“No good drugs end in ‘one’,” said one. “How bad?” asked another. “Try Ben Johnson in the late 1980s bad.”
Swimmer Shayna Jack and Broncos journeyman hooker James Segeyaro have declared their innocence after testing positive to anabolic agent Ligandrol, claiming the banned substance inadvertently crept into their system.
But Xerri has returned positive results to four different substances on the World Anti-Doping Association’s banned list and now faces an extraordinary fight to clear his name and save his career.
Just as curious as the substances involved is the timing of the announcement. Xerri was tested on November 25, meaning the notification of his positive test comes six months and one day after he gave his sample.
Sitting in his office at Racing NSW headquarters, where he is chief executive when he’s not saving rugby league, ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys was stunned by the timing.
In racing, jockeys are tested regularly to safeguard the sport’s integrity and safety. So advanced is the system that more than 10,000 prohibited substances can be tested in one urine sample.
It takes “two to three days” for a result to be returned. So you can understand V’landys’ consternation about it taking six months to deliver a kidney punch right on the eve of the keenly anticipated season restart in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Was the timing, just days before the start of the season, designed to embarrass the NRL? Or is there something bigger at play?
They are questions V’landys is likely to ask ASADA boss David Sharpe, a former Canberra Raiders player and assistant AFP commissioner, in the near future.
The six-month period between test and notification, and the fact ASADA officials confiscated Xerri’s phone on Tuesday morning, has fuelled suspicions this is the tip of the iceberg; that the positive A-sample is part of a wider investigation into how and why the banned substances have found their way into the system of one of the game’s brightest stars.
Cronulla chief executive Dino Mezzatesta did not know about the Xerri situation when he met with V’landys in his office on Tuesday morning.
Indeed, ASADA was so secretive about the positive test that neither the Sharks nor the NRL knew about the positive notification until midday. Neither Sharpe nor ASADA media adviser Tim Gavel returned the Herald‘s calls.
The news is a devastating blow for the Sharks, who removed the stain of the 2013 peptide scandal with a long-awaited premiership three seasons later.
In recent times, though, the club has been forced to deal with more drama. Coach Shane Flanagan was deregistered, while a salary cap investigation has seen players squeezed out, most recently Josh Morris to the Roosters.
Xerri, who had also been approached to join the Roosters, was expected to step in in his absence.
The 19-year-old has been in a hurry. He was such a talent that Flanagan wanted to play the Endeavour Sports High prodigy in the senior grade in 2018 but couldn’t because he was too young.
Xerri made his debut a year later and his first try, against Penrith, in which he shimmied and swerved around Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, showcased what lay ahead.
Ask any coach and they will tell you that speed is the most precious commodity in a footballer. It can’t be taught.
Only hours before news of his positive test broke, there were news reports about him rivalling Josh Addo-Carr as the game’s fastest man.
Xerri also talked about his concerns about being the first player to test positive to COVID-19 when he had flu-like symptoms in March.
“I thought I was going to shut down the NRL!” he exclaimed.
Then ASADA shut down his career.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.