Jarrod Mullen’s career has predominantly played out in the colossal shadow of Newcastle legend Andrew Johns. And although the Knights playmaker has never been able to fulfil the promise he showed as ‘Joey’s’ heir apparent in the Hunter, but like Johns, Mullen’s tenure in NRL is set to come to an end surrounded by the stench of a drugs scandal.
Mullen returned a positive A-sample for an anabolic steroid, Drostanolone which is prohibited by WADA and the NRL’s Anti-Doping Policy. He has been provisionally suspended by the NRL, and faces two years on the sidelines if he accepts the results.
He has the option of having his ‘B sample’ retested, but if that comes back positive he will be banned for four years. Either way – unless there has been a mistake – it appears the 29-year-old’s career is over.
— Triple M NRL (@TripleM_NRL) January 17, 2017
Mullen, who in 2016 became just the eighth Knights player to bring up 200 first-grade appearances for the club, has been savaged by injury in recent seasons; after playing at least 21 games a season from 2008-13, he has missed 32 games during the struggling side’s last three campaigns.
It would seem another serious hamstring injury forced a desperate Mullen to seek a recovery option that contravened the laws of world sport, leaving the already embattled Knights shocked and their 2017 season in further disarray as they look to avoid a third straight wooden spoon.
Jarrod Mullen testing positive to steroids shows just how desperate some players get to keep their careers going. Such a pity but no excuses
— Brad Walter (@BradWalterSMH) January 17, 2017
Born in Singleton, Mullen played his junior football with Wests in Newcastle and was earmarked for stardom after collecting a plethora of junior representative honours. He steered the Knights’ SG Ball side to a title in 2004, representing NSW-17s and Australian Schoolboys in the same season.
The precocious half made his NRL debut a month after his 18th birthday in 2005, while also turning out for NSW Under-19s, Australian Schoolboys and the Junior Kangaroos. Blessed with speed, excellent vision and a superb all-round kicking game, Mullen became a first grade regular in 2006 and was anointed as Andrew Johns’ successor in Newcastle despite his tender years.
His elevation to the role of Knights linchpin came earlier than expected following Johns’ injury-enforced retirement after the opening round of 2007, and despite boasting just 31 NRL appearances (and only nine at halfback), Mullen beat a host of contenders to be named NSW’s halfback for the Origin series opener.
He had a hand in two first half tries, firing a beautiful cut-out pass in the lead-up to Matt Cooper’s four-pointer, but he was criticised for failing to impose himself on the contest won 25-18 by Queensland.
Injury ruled Mullen out of contention for the second encounter, while his replacement Brett Kimmorley was retained for game three and further injury problems ended Mullen’s season in June.
A key player for the Knights in subsequent seasons at halfback or five-eighth, Mullen brought up 100 first appearances aged just 23, but Peter Wallace, Mitchell Pearce and Brett Kimmorley were preferred in the NSW selection room.
Arguably Mullen’s best chance for a Blues recall disintegrated after being outplayed by Wallace in his debut for Country Origin in 2009. He represented Country again in 2011-12 and ’14, and was superb in the Knights’ remarkable charge to the preliminary final in 2013, but his best form perennially failed to coincide with the pre-Origin period.
The steroids scandal brings back harrowing memories for the Knights, who were rocked by positive tests returned by premiership heroes Robbie O’Davis, Adam MacDougall and Wayne Richards (as well as Melbourne Test prop Rodney Howe) in 1998.
Club greats O’Davis and MacDougall returned and celebrated in another Knights grand final win in 2001, but Mullen is unlikely to get an opportunity to restore his reputation.
CEO Matt Gidley provided some matter-of-fact quotes for the Knights’ statement on the issue, but will be gutted on a personal level after playing with Mullen during Gidley’s last two seasons at the Knights.
“The club is obviously extremely disappointed,” Gidley said in the statement.
“The club has a strict governance program, the players are regularly educated and fully aware of the consequences of going outside our governance guidelines.
“From here, there is a formal process we need to follow under the guidelines.
“We need to respect the process and in the interim the club will continue to monitor Jarrod’s welfare.”
Nathan Brown’s young Knights outfit will now battle on without the only player whose NRL career at the club goes back further than 2012. Three players who debuted during a disastrous 2016 campaign – 19-year-olds Brock Lamb and Jack Cogger, and 22-year-old utility Jaelen Feeney – will battle it out to partner former NSW Origin No.7 Trent Hodkinson in the halves.
Mullen’s impending axing will free up a reported $600,000 in the Knights’ salary cap for the next two seasons, which gives the club plenty of room to move when a host of blue-chip halves come off contract at the end of this year.
But while that may ultimately be a fortuitous outcome, no one associated with the Knights would have wanted to see one of their most loyal servants bow out like this.