Before dawn on a Saturday in May last year, police in Canberra identified a group of men on CCTV.
Two of them had played in the Anzac rugby league Test the previous night.
They were then New Zealand captain Jesse Bromwich and fellow Kiwi international Kevin Proctor. After losing the game they were now doing lines of cocaine outside a city nightclub, just hours after playing for their country.
“They’re both really, you know, really top-quality players,” Adrian Crowther, who partied with the footballers that night, said.
Mr Crowther was a big fan of Bromwich’s club Melbourne Storm.
He had been to the Test that night and bought the players drinks as a sign of his appreciation.
One of the players’ entourage asked Mr Crowther if he had any cocaine. It did not take long for him to get his hands on some.
“Let’s do this,” Mr Crowther told the men.
“I just wanted to get on it with these guys,” Mr Crowther told 7.30.
“I thought it was just a great opportunity to carry on drinking with them.”
‘They had some lines and we stood around chatting’
Adrian Crowther supplied cocaine to rugby league players Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor. (ABC News: Chris MacGregor)
CCTV footage obtained by 7.30 shows the group outside the nightclub joking, play-fighting and snorting lines of cocaine off Mr Crowther’s phone.
“They had some lines and we just stood around chatting,” Mr Crowther said.
“They were real drunk,” he said.
“I remember Jesse swaying ’cause he’s such a big man.”
According to a statement of facts, police observed Bromwich and Proctor on CCTV consuming a white powder that was later tested and found to be cocaine.
Under ACT law, the possession and supply of drugs such as cocaine is illegal, but using it is not an offence.
When police arrived, neither player was searched or arrested. Mr Crowther said the officers shook hands with the players and then left.
But Mr Crowther was taken to the city watch house.
He was charged with cocaine and MDMA possession. He was later convicted and fined $5250.
The players were suspended and fined by their clubs, but Mr Crowther said he did not think it was fair they walked free.
“I thought it was wrong,” he said.
“I’m not making excuses for what I did but, you know, we should all be tarred with the same brush.”
The timing for rugby league, could not have been worse.
It came after the Titans were engulfed in the 2015 cocaine scandal that threatened to destroy the club.
Seven of the Titans’ current and former players faced criminal charges for supplying cocaine. There were calls for the Titans’ licence to be revoked.
Three of the players, including former State of Origin player David Taylor, junior player Jamie Dowling and former back Joe Vickery, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of possession although none had convictions recorded.
Four others — star Greg Bird, hooker Beau Falloon, retired representative forward Ashley Harrison and back Kalifa Faifai Loa — all had their charges dropped due to lack of evidence.
Two years later, the Titans’ then co-captain Proctor was doing cocaine on the street.
Former league player ran cocaine syndicate
John Touma leaves the Southport Magistrates Court on the Gold Coast in October 2016. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
A 7.30 investigation has examined the syndicate that supplied cocaine to footballers across three codes. It was run by former rugby league player John Touma, who played for the Sydney Roosters in the 1980s.
“I got on very well with him,” former NRL player Mario Fenech told 7.30.
“He’s a Mascot fella and I played for Mascot as well.”
Long after his football career had ended, Touma reinvented himself on the Gold Coast.
He had a wine business that was a front for his cocaine dealing. He was known to customers as “Leather”.
Leather’s network would drive to Sydney to pick up cocaine and sell it across south-east Queensland, with the epicentre on the Gold Coast.
Jim Keogh was a Gold Coast police commander investigating the cocaine trade and he uncovered deep connections to rugby league.
“We found a number of footballers may have been involved in the use of cocaine as well as organised crime figures,” Mr Keogh said.
“Touma was an ex-rugby league player,” Campbell McCallum, a criminal lawyer who defended six of the seven Titans players associated with the syndicate, said.
“He’d been involved with club functions with the Titans and he was a person who had a son who ran out at the start of one of the games.”
Matt Seers playing for the North Sydney Bears (l) and a recent photo before he went to prison (r). (Supplied)
One of Touma’s drug couriers was Matthew Seers, a star fullback who played for the North Sydney Bears and New South Wales in the 1990s.
“No-one caught him because he was super quick,” Fenech, who played alongside Seers at North Sydney, said.
“He turned and chased and tackled Brett Mullens in a semi-final in ’94 and caught him. Unbelievable,” former Bears front rower Josh Stuart, who still counts Seers as a friend, said.
He became aware of Seers’ cocaine habit in 1997 during an end-of-season celebration.
“It’s unfortunate, he made a couple of bad decisions,” Stuart said.
“Those bad decisions turn to life-long decisions because he become addicted to the stuff.”
‘I had plenty of mates in my era that loved drugs’
Fenech says cocaine use was rife among players in the 1980s and 1990s and he was regularly offered drugs.
“I don’t want to say names but I had plenty of mates in my era that loved drugs,” he said.
“I had people come up to you … with the cocaine and I used to say ‘no it’s not for me, I don’t have that’.
“Girls would offer it to me and look at me like I was an idiot because they couldn’t believe that I knocked it back.”
Seers tested positive for cocaine while playing for the Bears and briefly went to rehab. He spent time living with another North Sydney teammate on the New South Wales central coast but struggled to stay clean.
Stuart said the North Sydney club could have done more to help Seers.
“I think it was handled very poorly,” he told 7.30.
What Touma did not know was the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission was tapping his phone and had a listening device inside his apartment.
The syndicate came crashing down in December 2014 when the crime commission raided his apartment.
Inside investigators found five mobile phones and $6000 in cash.
By chance, partway through the raid, Seers arrived at the apartment in Touma’s car. Investigators found cocaine under the driver’s seat.
In February Touma was sentenced to nine years in prison. Seers was sentenced to four years’ jail over his role in the syndicate. In a court statement, Seers said he “made some stupid decisions”, was unemployed and abusing cocaine after he retired from football.
Former North Sydney Bears player Josh Stuart wants to help Matt Seers once he leaves prison. (ABC News: Alex McDonald)
Stuart is now part of a group of ex-Bears players who are planning to visit Seers in prison and want to support him once he is released.
“In 1994 he’s a superstar and 2018 he’s in jail,” he told 7.30.
Former Titans star Preston Campbell also played against Seers.
“When you hang up the boots and you take that jumper off you’re a different person,” he told 7.30.
“You’re not that star that’s played for his country, played for his state, that’s won a grand final. You’re just Matt Seers, and it’s a very scary prospect to look at that.
“You turn around and you think ‘where’s it all gone and what am I going to do now?'”
Drugs a ‘societal problem not limited to sport’
Lawyer Campbell McCallum has represented a number of rugby league players on drugs charges. (ABC News: Steve Cavanagh)
Next month another former Titans player will front a Gold Coast court on 10 counts of supplying cocaine.
He will be represented by Mr MacCallum.
“He will certainly be defending a number of the charges that are before the court,” Mr MacCallum told 7.30.
The Titans declined to answer questions related to this story.
The NRL said it had increased its drug testing since the Canberra nightclub incident, with more than 2,500 tests conducted over the 2017 season.
It claimed that its illicit drugs policy was one of the toughest of any sporting code.
An NRL spokesman said illicit drug use was a “societal problem not limited to professional sport” and “players are like any other people and will make mistakes, and we are realistic that sometimes those mistakes will involve drugs”.