Burraston sympathises with Gold Coast over cocaine scandal

FORMER Knights chief executive Steve Burraston says Gold Coast officials have his full sympathy as they deal with the drugs scandal that threatens to torpedo their season before a ball is kicked.

Five Titans, Greg Bird, David Taylor, Beau Falloon, Kalifa Faifai Loa and Jamie Dowling, have been stood down as they wait to appear in court next month to face cocaine supply and possession charges.

The Knights endured similar upheaval late in 2009 when first-grade forwards Danny Wicks and Chris Houston were charged with possessing and supplying ecstasy and cocaine.

Both players were stood down and soon afterwards resigned from the club.

Wicks was subsequently jailed for 18 months, while Houston spent a year on the sidelines before a magistrate ruled there was insufficient evidence against him and dismissed all charges, allowing the Knights to reinstate him.

Burraston, Newcastle’s chief executive, at the time of the troubles, said those painful memories had not faded.

‘‘You don’t get much sleep,’’ Burraston told the Newcastle Herald on Tuesday.

‘‘You’re obviously briefing the board, your disciplinary committees, your coaching staff and your key management. It becomes a highly stressful situation that takes up a lot of hours, a lot of meetings.

‘‘You want as much information as you can get, but the police can only share so much, because it’s an ongoing investigation.’’

Burraston said he was ‘‘very sympathetic’’ towards Titans boss Graeme Annesley, whom he has known for years.

‘‘It’s a really tough time for everyone in the organisation, perhaps more so for your CEO and coach, who have to bear the brunt of that pressure,’’ Burraston said. ‘‘It’s a very difficult situation because you don’t know the depth of what the police are pursuing.

‘‘In Australia we presume innocence until proven guilty, so there are also workplace ramifications. You can’t just act on a piece of information. You have to wait and see how it plays out in the end.

‘‘As happened with us, you may be obliged to reinstate someone if they are proven innocent through the process, as was the case with Chris Houston.’’

He said the unfortunate reality was that, even if no players involved in the Gold Coast scandal were convicted, reputations would be damaged.

‘‘It’s the old adage: you throw some mud and some will stick,’’ he said. ‘‘There is so much external pressure, not just from the media but also the general public.

‘‘You become tarnished by what happened, whether you’re a coach, a player or an official. It makes no difference.

‘‘It certainly does tarnish the brand of the club, and that’s sad because the vast majority of rugby league players are good people.

‘‘But you have to understand that rugby league is a cross-section of society and in all walks of life there are people who do the wrong thing. Football clubs are not immune to that.’’

The Wicks scandal overshadowed Rick Stone’s first full season as Knights coach, and in hindsight he acknowledged it was ‘‘not easy to manage’’.     

‘‘It’s a big distraction, particularly at this time of year, just before the season [starts],’’ Stone said. ‘‘I think ours was about Christmas time, which was bad enough.

‘‘It is a big distraction. There’s a lot of scrutiny and it takes your focus away from what you need to do.

‘‘I’m sure they’ve got some smart people up there [on the Gold Coast] managing that.’’

Stone said in such environments, some of the media coverage could be ‘‘unfair’’.

This story Burraston sympathises with Gold Coast over cocaine scandal first appeared on Newcastle Herald.

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