Outgoing Knights coach Wayne Bennett has defended the decision of players caught up in the Cronulla supplements scandal for taking the early pleas made available to them by ASADA while taking a swipe at the "farcical" process that put them in such a difficult position.
The Knights were without Kade Snowden and Jeremy Smith for Saturday night's 48-6 mauling at the hands of the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium after the pair chose to join the other eight current NRL players to accept the back-dated 12-month bans handed down by the NRL on Saturday.
Cowboys outside back Matthew Wright missed his side's 22-10 win over the Rabbitohs and will take no further part in their premiership push while Titans pair Luke Douglas and Albert Kelly also had their seasons end prematurely.
Having been through 18 months of mental anguish, Sharks players Paul Gallen, Wade Graham, Anthony Tupou, Nathan Gardner and John Morris also accepted the bans that will run through until November 23 this year.
With the back-dated nature of the bans the punishment effectively for nine of the players involved is a three-week suspension and while Gallen and Smith are now unavailable for Four Nations selection, Bennett said the deal was the best they could have hoped for under the circumstances.
"If [ASADA] believe there's been performing enhancing drugs involved it's been a pretty fair deal," Bennett said.
"There's too much at stake the other way. These guys have been tormented for days about this and it's not easy, and they still don't know what they took. They got a "show cause" notice that says what they took but that's the first time they probably realised what they were encouraged by their staff and other people to take.
"I think they did the right thing, for themselves, as hard as it might have been."
On Saturday at 1pm after the players involved had been placed on the Register of Findings by ASADA the NRL were then in a position to enforce the bans but Bennett maintains that the players remain the victims of the sordid saga.
While current and former Olympians such as Alice Tait (nee Mills) vehemently objected to the leniency of the bans and called for the World Anti Doping Agency to intervene "with force", Bennett's disgust lay with the tiers above the players, from the Cronulla coaching staff right through to the Labor Government of the time of the announcement of the investigation last February.
"Since the day they came out and talked about the blackest day in Australian sport it's been pretty farcical ever since that day," Bennett said.
"I'm disappointed in the government at the time and I'm disappointed in ASADA at the time, the way it was conducted. I said that on the first day that it happened as well. Nobody conducts an investigation in public. Everyone tries to avoid that, Police, everybody that's involved in the investigative part of the world, and from that day on it's been catch-up and they've never caught up.
"It's so messy and everybody's trying to save a bit of face but the end result is the players have been as much the victims as anybody in this.
"From the moment they were told by people involved in their club that it was about recovery and that it wasn't performance-enhancing [substances that were being administered] so I think in the end they've still taken the pain but at least it's been minimised and I think it's a fair outcome; as fair as you can get it in a very difficult situation.
"I'm just extremely disappointed in any of the [Cronulla] staff that they induced those players to do what they did. We have a greater responsibility than that. They trust us."