Slipper's future at Ballymore uncertain

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

Queeensland prop James Slipper may have played his final game for Reds, after twice testing positive for cocaine.

Slipper was suspended for two months and fined $27,500 on Thursday and with his current contract set to expire at the end of this year, his future at Ballymore is under a cloud.

It's understood Slipper's first positive test came days prior to the Brisbane Tens in February and was followed by a second positive in Queensland's recent bye week.

Coach Brad Thorn has taken a hard line when it comes to cultural change at Ballymore and the way he’s handled the Karmichael Hunt situation - after the fullback fronted court charged with drug possession earlier this year - provides a line in understanding how he will deal with Slipper, despite the differences in the two situations.

Hunt has not played club or Super Rugby this year despite being free to play since March, when a Rugby Australia-imposed suspension ended.

His management have been forced to look for an overseas home with his playing career in Australia all but over and there are now suggestions Slipper may face the same fate.Slipper has led the Reds this season when Scott Higginbotham has been sidelined. Photo: Getty ImagesThough Slipper’s first positive test was confidential, QRU chairman Jeff Miller said Slipper had spoken to Thorn about his mental health struggles through the season, with Thorn moving to accommodate the former skipper in his training schedule.

"Brad had spoken to James and they had made some accommodations around James' training programs," Miller said.

"While we have been aware of these issues and we have been working with him, obviously we haven't been able to cover all bases."

Thorn is trying to overhaul the culture at Ballymore and that's a move Miller endorsed this afternoon.

"You have a very strong coach in the name of Brad Thorn who is instigating cultural change within this organisation which we support and we support Brad," Miller said.

"Brad is extremely disappointed and you can understand that a senior player has tested (positive) twice to illicit drug use.

"And I have got to say, in our sport, in any sport, there is no room for illicit drugs."Slipper is battling depression. Photo: WalmsleyThe veteran prop was also not invited to a recent Wallabies camp on the Gold Coast and was not believed to be in the running for a spot in the upcoming June Series.

That call was made prior to news of Slipper's misdemeanours, leaving little wiggle room for the 28-year-old as he renegotiates a $500,000 per year deal.

Whether another Super Rugby club would take the veteran prop on remains to be seen, but for now, he is out of favour at Ballymore.

Miller was quick to stress that all parties involved must tread with caution, given Slipper’s current mental state.

"James has got some significant personal issues that he's dealing with and we need to take that into consideration," he said.

"With James, we need to understand the personal situation, what he is going through and how that has an impact on your decision making.

"We've got a duty of care to all our employees and after this, we really need to have a look at the policy and testing."Karmichael Hunt's career in Australia is all but over. Photo: WalmsleyMiller also denied any suggestion that the club has a drug problem, with Slipper and Hunt two senior players among the Reds' ranks.

"Karmichael, different story, we won't get into that here," he said.

"I expect everyone will have an opinion on this.

"Let's think about the player first and the welfare issues that are in play, at the moment."

One suggestion Miller would make focused on a review of the illicit drugs policy, which keeps clubs in the dark until a player is caught twice - similar to protocol followed by the AFL and NRL.

"I do believe that we need to have a closer look at the policy," he said.

"This incident has made us look back at the policy and look closely at the policy.

"I don't think anyone as ever thinking we would have to use it but we have so we will do our review.

"Anyone that knows me - it's not decision making on the run - it's getting all the information that we need and in a considered manner, make decision from there."

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. There is also an anonymous online chat service available between 8pm and 4am AEST at, or visit Beyond Blue’s website.