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Dank defamation trial begins in Sydney -

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MARK COLVIN: The controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank is taking on two of the country's biggest selling newspapers in a defamation trial which began in Sydney this morning.

He argues that his reputation was ruined by articles published in the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph in 2013.

One of the pieces suggested a possible link between performance enhancing substances which he administered and the death of a star footballer at the Cronulla Sharks Rugby League club.

Brendan Trembath reports.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: In a front page story in April 2013, the Daily Telegraph made an extraordinary claim about the death of star footballer Jon Mannah.

The Cronulla Sharks player had died of cancer at the beginning of the year, and the newspaper asserted his death may have been accelerated by substances administered by sports scientist Stephen Dank.

He argues the article was wrong and defamatory, and is suing Nationwide News, the News Corporation-controlled publisher of the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph.

In the defamation trial which began today, Mr Dank's lawyer Clive Evatt has to convince a jury of three men and a woman that Mr Dank's reputation was damaged by the page one piece and two other articles.

He said, "Mr Dank comes before you today as a man of excellent reputation, which we say has been ruined by the defendant, including the editors and the journalists."

Mr Evatt mentioned the newspaper's wide readership. The Daily Telegraph, he told the jury, is the biggest circulation newspaper in the state.

The lawyer leaned in close as he made his opening address. He explained to the jurors how football has changed since the days when players mostly lived in the area of their club.

"It's highly professional now," he said. “Teams have coaches, doctors and sports scientists such as Stephen Dank.”

"Everything is scientific," said Mr Evatt.

He emphasized that each of the 16 teams in the NRL competition has a sports scientist, whose job is to prescribe substances to make players less tired.

Mr Evatt said his client was a qualified biochemist, and careful about what substances he administered.

The World Anti Doping Authority publishes an annual list of prohibited substances.

Mr Evatt then challenged the Daily Telegraph's suggestion that Jon Mannah's death from cancer may have been accelerated by peptides administered by Stephen Dank.

Mr Evatt said not so. "We say that the article is completely untrue and we didn't administer warfarin."

The jurors are obliged to put themselves in the shoes of an ordinary reasonable reader. Such a reader is expected to have read the whole of the article.

There's no skimming the first few paragraphs as many busy people often do.

Mr Evatt read out a number of passages from the front page piece, including the headline "Peptide Link to NRL Star's Death".

Nationwide News, the publisher of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, stands by the piece.

Stephen Dank's standing in the community will be a central issue in this trial. As Clive Evatt put it, "We are not born with a reputation, instead it's earned as we age.”

A reputation he explained was "what people say about us behind our back".

MARK COLVIN: Brendan Trembath.