Paige Sheppard and Lexi Hamilton in action for Sydney during the 2023 NAB AFLW season. Picture: AFL Photos

SYDNEY players Alexia Hamilton and Paige Sheppard have both been banned for two games by the AFL after being found guilty of possessing an illegal drug.

The pair was charged by NSW Police in December, when the Swans had finished their AFLW season, after being found in possession of an illicit substance while outside a hotel in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

STATEMENT AFL statement on Alexia Hamilton and Paige Sheppard

Both players were given conditional release orders, similar to good behaviour bonds, by Waverley Local Court in January. No conviction was recorded.

The AFL's Integrity Unit subsequently interviewed both players and found them guilty of conduct unbecoming and handed down a two-game ban.

AFLW players are not currently subject to the AFL's Illicit Drug Policy framework that men's players are subject to.

Lexi Hamilton (right) contests the ruck during Sydney's clash with Port Adelaide in NAB AFLW round six, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"I am extremely embarrassed and apologetic for my actions, and the position I have put my family, friends and teammates in," Hamilton said. "I understand I have significantly broken trust, and I apologise to our members, fans and club partners for that. I accept full responsibility for my actions."

Sheppard said: "I would like to express my remorse and apologise to the Sydney Swans family, my teammates, family and friends for making this mistake. I am fully aware I have made a bad error of judgement and will be working hard to earn back the respect of my teammates."

It is believed to be the first time AFLW players have been charged with drug possession.

"AFLW players, in fact all players, are well-educated when it comes to the harms associated with the use of illicit substances," AFL General Counsel Stephen Meade said.

"While Alexia and Paige have been extremely remorseful and apologetic for their actions, they have a responsibility to themselves, their clubs, and their professional careers to uphold community expectations."

Paige Sheppard on the boundary line during Sydney's clash with Geelong in NAB AFLW round 10, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The League expects AFLW players will soon be subject to its Illicit Drug Policy, like the men's players are.

"Our review, in collaboration with the AFLPA, of the AFL's Illicit Drug Policy continues. The AFL's expectation is that that AFLW players will be part of any future policy.  In these circumstances, both players have been dealt with under the AFL Rules and the accountability both publicly and privately is appropriate," Meade said.

As it was an out-of-season incident and does not involve a positive test, it is a markedly different case to that of Melbourne AFL men's forward Joel Smith, who tested positive to cocaine during an in-season test last year and is currently under investigation by Sports Integrity Australia.

Carlton recruit Elijah Hollands was given a two-match ban (inclusive of AFL and VFL level) and a suspended $5000 fine in November last year after receiving a good behaviour bond from the Southport Magistrates Court for possession of cocaine.

Both Jack Ginnivan and Bailey Smith were given two-match suspensions by the AFL for recent incidents involving illicit substances. In those cases, the players were not charged by police, but footage surfaced on social media.

Hamilton, 23, is coming into her fifth season on an AFLW list, having also played for Gold Coast and North Melbourne, while 22-year-old Sheppard is into her third season as a Swan.

Sydney CEO Tom Harley during the match between the Swans and Melbourne in 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Key forward/ruck Hamilton has played 24 AFLW games – including all but one last season – while midfielder Sheppard has recorded 17 games but was unable to regain her spot in the Swans side last season after suffering a concussion in a heavy tackle by Brit Gutknecht.

"Our football club has standards of behaviour that we expect all our people to live up to. This behaviour has fallen short of those standards, which is disappointing, and we are supportive of the AFL sanctions as we believe they are appropriate," Swans CEO Tom Harley said.

"All Sydney Swans players are educated about the impacts of drug use, so to have players in this position is also disappointing from a health and wellbeing perspective.

"Both Lexi and Paige understand their position as role models in the community. They have both cooperated fully with the club and the AFL throughout this matter and have shown contrition through their actions. We are working with both from a welfare and education perspective to ensure they receive the necessary support."

The AFLW season will commence at the end of August, but Sydney also has an upcoming five-game stint in the VFLW, starting in April.