Bombers and Sharks: what do they have in common?

Redb Roar Guru

By Redb, Redb is a Roar Guru

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    It has been reported that Essendon players have received show-cause notices from ASADA. (AFL media/Slattery Images).

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    As the calamitous events around Cronulla unfold, the inevitable comparison with Essendon has begun. The obvious common factor is sports scientist Stephen Dank.

    Dank worked at Cronulla for three months in 2011 and for nine months at Essendon in 2012.

    Dank is alleged to have stepped over the WADA line with both clubs with his use of supplements, drugs and intravenous injections.

    A clutch of NRL clubs are also under suspicion as they engaged Dank at some point. That is quite a trail of potential destruction to reputations due to one man.

    However, it does not necessarily follow that what has occurred at Cronulla will be replicated at Essendon in terms of potential ASADA breaches and subsequent sanctions.

    Nor is it the case that the likely fallout and management action by the two clubs will follow the same course.

    For starters, the investigation into the two clubs is quite different.

    In the Australian Crime Commission’s report into Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport it makes mention of a club being under suspicion for systemic banned supplement use.

    Most media commentators now assume this was a reference to Cronulla as they appear to be at the pointy end of the ASADA investigation, compared to Essendon whose investigation has only been running for a month or so.

    At the time the report was published most assumed page 17 of the report must have referred to Essendon as it was the only club identified.

    The Cronulla situation came to a head when media reports suggested up to 14 players were to be offered six month bans in exchange for a guilty plea due to alleged use of equine drugs banned by WADA.

    What followed at Cronulla was a shambles. Four senior staff were sacked and the coach suspended by the Board, followed by the Chairman of the Board himself standing down.

    This is not a way to manage your club in a crisis, hardly a blueprint for other sporting organisations to follow.

    The NRL has had no choice but to parachute in management and key staff to rescue the club. Although in the NRL’s case it might suit another agenda.

    There has been no such collapse at Essendon, despite a similar threat posed by the ASADA investigation.

    The Chairman, CEO and Coach at Essendon fronted a press conference and announced they were calling in ASADA and the AFL to investigate.

    This was followed by a request for an external management review of ‘irregular’ practices at the club.

    The only similarity was the removal of the High performance Manager at each club, although in Essendon’s case Dean Robinson was stood down, not sacked.

    It would be naive though to suggest that both Cronulla and Essendon did not have some idea of a massive problem prior to these events. To that end there will be consequences at Essendon once the facts are known, but not kneejerk sackings.

    The nature of the supplements in use at Cronulla and Essendon is a complete unknown. There appears to be evidence by virtue of the six month offers to players that banned substances have been taken at Cronulla.

    External and internal messages to date suggest Essendon may be in more trouble for the methods used (injections), rather than performance enhancing drug use.

    A whistleblower exists in the Cronulla case; these is no whistleblower to date at Essendon.

    If the worst case occurs for both clubs and ASADA bans multiple players or the whole club, the outcome will also be different in terms of how each governing body manages the impact.

    The NRL is behind the AFL in its expansion plans. It has designs on a team in Western Australia and South Australia where it has no presence. There is also the possiblity of an extra team in Queensland and New Zealand.

    The NRL perhaps might have engineered the removal of the entire management structure at Cronulla so it can effectively control the destiny of the licence depending on the severity of the ASADA bans.

    The AFL, on the other hand, has already taken bold steps in expansion with two new clubs in NSW and Queensland.

    Consolidation is the mantra for the AFL. There is no need to weaken Essendon anymore than it deserves.

    Cronulla is a relatively unsuccessful club with a small fan-base.

    Essendon has been a very successful club for much of its existence with an enormous fan-base.

    The attitude of NRL v AFL fans is also different.

    NRL fans of other clubs see a crippled or missing Cronulla perhaps as an opportunity; AFL fans in the main see a crippled or missing Essendon as unfavourable to the competition as a whole.

    I think the latter response is correct for both NRL and AFL fans as the whole situation is tragic for the fans of the clubs involved, and there are unforeseen serious consequences to the respective competitions.

    The bottom line is that no-one really knows what has occurred and it is too early to make bold statements that Cronulla and Essendon are on the same trajectory.

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    The Crowd Says (88)

    • March 14th 2013 @ 2:00am
      Billo said | March 14th 2013 @ 2:00am | ! Report

      The AFL and its clubs are far better managed than the NRL and its clubs.
      That is very clear.
      And if the NRL is stupid enough to want to re-locate the Sharks to Perth or Queensland, I’m sure that rugby would be only too keen to move in and base a second NSW Super Rugby team at Shark Park.
      Rugby league must be the only sport in the world that could actually believe it has too many teams in one city and would be prepared to risk alienating a significant proportion of a major district with thousands of loyal supporters by moving a club out.
      But if they do it will give great opportunities for other codes.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 4:39am
        Cleary89 said | March 14th 2013 @ 4:39am | ! Report

        Lol the waratahs who represent all of nsw are only getting 11k to games, a rugby team out of the shire would get gws esque crowds.

        Would be as dumb a decision as gws

        • March 14th 2013 @ 10:13am
          clipper said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:13am | ! Report

          The big difference is that Rugby is fairly strong in the East, Innner City and North whereas in the Shire it doesn’t have much of a presence. The only code that would benefit would be Football.

          • March 14th 2013 @ 12:10pm
            Harry M said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

            THe Port Hacking and St George clubs merged to form Souths – there arent a lot of junior rugby clubs in the Shire…Greater chance of a rugby franchise at the Central Coast and that is a million to one…

    • March 14th 2013 @ 2:55am
      Anthony said | March 14th 2013 @ 2:55am | ! Report

      Very clear analysis of the situation, Redb. There is a huge difference between the Cronulla situation & Essendon, as you have pointed out. Did Essendon know of the ASDA report before they announced they wanted an enquiry? We may never know. But they have certainly been professional & transparent from the start.

      Another difference between the 2 is that Essendon is a club over 140 years old, with generations of members & supporters, whereas Cronulla has only been playing since 1967. When you have all that history & success behibd you, it is easier to respond in a more professional way.

      The unfortunate result is that, yet again, the NRL season starts with controversy. However, if the report is true that David Smith lobbied the PM, suggesting that the AFL were getting favored treatment – then the NRL also needs to be more professional – & get the facts straight!

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2013 @ 12:16pm
        Redb said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:16pm | ! Report


        The lobbying is interesting it never ceases to me amaze at the level of paranoia directed at the AFL by the NRL.

        The AFL can do diddly about ASADA sanctions.

        in the next breath the NRL ask for more investigators and offfer to help for pay for them – read into that what you want.

    • Roar Guru

      March 14th 2013 @ 5:50am
      peeeko said | March 14th 2013 @ 5:50am | ! Report

      i also get the inclination that the Melbourne media is more supportive of its AFL teams than the Sydney media is of its NRL teams

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2013 @ 8:21am
        Redb said | March 14th 2013 @ 8:21am | ! Report

        Back page of yesterdays Herald Sun featured an Essendon jumper, syringe and the headline “40 jabs”

        • March 14th 2013 @ 8:33am
          Australian Rules said | March 14th 2013 @ 8:33am | ! Report

          I don’t think there’s any question that, as a whole, the AFL community is more unified than the NRL community, which has been beset by infighting for decades.

          As for the media, the Bombers were absolutely savaged by all the press in Melbourne when this story broke…so the idea of “protective” media is a false one I think. Footy gets blankert coverage…but it’s certainly not all good news!

          • March 14th 2013 @ 11:00am
            yewonk said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:00am | ! Report

            fair comment, there are families who still dont talk to each other because of the super league war.

            • March 14th 2013 @ 12:13pm
              Harry M said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

              The Telegaph is Sydney bags the new NRL administration while the Herald supports it so its hard to compare NRL vrs AFL coverage. The Nine network has a whole TV program based on bagging the AFL – Footy classified…

      • March 14th 2013 @ 10:31am
        Matt F said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:31am | ! Report

        Part of the reason why it may seem that way is because Essendon were known a while ago. It must be around a month or so ago that they went to ASADA and asked for an investigation. Essentially the Essendon issue is now quite old and with the way ASADA investigates (very few leaks) there isn’t much news coming out. There was significant coverage at the time but the media can only repeat the same story for so long.

        The Cronulla issue meanwhile only really became a big deal about a week ago. Then you’ve also got to add in Cronulla’s woeful management of the issue which has probably created more stories then it should have. Assuming Cronulla don’t manage to shoot themselves in the foot again (which based on the last week is highly unlikely) they’ll drift off the back pages in a few days as there won’t be any new news to report for a while, until the investigation is finished.

    • March 14th 2013 @ 8:30am
      Australian Rules said | March 14th 2013 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      Another key difference is that Essendon went to the AFL first and divulged what they knew of the injecting program. Following that, it went to ASADA and asked it to make a full independent investigation into the club’s practices. In a sense, it *looked* as thought the club “confessed” and then asked for help to clean it up.

      Conversely at Cronulla…ASADA fronted them first, apparently with the aid of a whistleblower.

      It’s my understanding that the alleged 6 month offer to the Cronulla players was suggested by the club’s lawyer, Redman QC (former ASDADA lawyer) and not formally offered by ASADA. It was suggested to mitigate the pending penalties which were considered to be harsher.

      Naturally, some people will cynically regard the timing of Essendon’s “confession” – and so they should. But that key difference remains…Essendon went to ASADA, ASADA went to Cronulla. How it plays out is anyone’s guess at this stage.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 8:54am
        Matt_S said | March 14th 2013 @ 8:54am | ! Report

        Why did they take months to come clean and after probing by the media?

        • March 14th 2013 @ 12:16pm
          Harry M said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:16pm | ! Report


          Essendon came clean before the investigation was announced and the issue was last year. 6 NRL clubs were named and the investigation will go back years when the alleged culprit was at their clubs but how many have announced an internal review. Although the Jamaican RL have reviewed their ganja policy so you should be proclaiming that

        • March 14th 2013 @ 12:38pm
          Australian Rules said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:38pm | ! Report


          It’s a fair question. We don’t know the answer.

          What we *do* know, is that by seasons end Essendon sacked Dank over concerns about his “sports science” program. Then for about 2 months, sections of the media were asking Essendon questions about the program and his departure.

          It reached a tipping point (either internally at the club or via the media) and the club went to the AFL.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 9:34am
        Steve M said | March 14th 2013 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        Essendon should take a leaf out of Cronulla’s book and appoint Redman QC (the former ASADA lawyer) in lieu of Ziggy and Co to conduct the internal review. This way it will get expert qualified legal advice and will be better prepared for ASADA’s processes and findings.

        • Roar Guru

          March 14th 2013 @ 10:01am
          Redb said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:01am | ! Report

          Steve M,

          The internal review is about corporate governance within the club – what should be reported and to whom? Who is responsible,etc. It is not ASADA advice.

          I note that Cronulla players have ignored Redman’s advice.

          • March 14th 2013 @ 10:22am
            Australian Rules said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:22am | ! Report

            And I think it’s a good move ignoring the Redman QC at this stage.

            He’d be giving them advice straight from the ASADA playbook. As we all know, the law can be more malleable than that – creative, mitigating solutions are what’s needed.

            • March 14th 2013 @ 10:40am
              Steve M said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:40am | ! Report

              Ignore independent expert qualified advice at your own peril.

              • March 14th 2013 @ 10:49am
                yewonk said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:49am | ! Report

                im not sure it is independent if he is a fomer lawyer of asada.

              • Roar Guru

                March 14th 2013 @ 10:55am
                Redb said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:55am | ! Report

                Steve M,

                What is more interesting is that Redman is not speaking on behalf of ASADA, there are no guarantees if they come clean they will only get 6 months.

              • March 14th 2013 @ 12:31pm
                Australian Rules said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

                Steve M

                Independent advice is important, yes – my point was that Redman gives that advice (if indeed that was his recommendation) from a background of working within the ASADA framework. That’s the perspective he brings.

                There may be broader legal perspectives to digest…particularly as no player has been charged…yet he was recommending a confession.

              • March 14th 2013 @ 12:42pm
                Nathan of Perth said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

                Crazily enough, its that 6 month suggestion that seems to have muddied the water so much and made it look as though ASADA itself is unsure of their investigations, even though ASADA had nothing to do with it.

    • March 14th 2013 @ 8:50am
      Matt_S said | March 14th 2013 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      The only difference is the Essendon picture remains localised while the sharks stuff appeared for days on all national media outlets, even Essendon and its sponsors remain largely protected and they will stick firm as long as their brand is protected nationally. The national media dully comply. I bet the sharks would love to have their woes only reported in Sydney.

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2013 @ 10:48am
        Redb said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        That is incorrect. Essendon have received nationwide coverage of their ASADA investigation. The Melb media in particular have been all over Essendon like a cheap suit. The tabloid and even the AGE have teed off.

        It is not unexpected though that local media in Syd/melb respectively give the local clubs more exposure. This is not replicated in each market.

        • March 14th 2013 @ 10:50am
          yewonk said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:50am | ! Report

          cronulla have panicked bombers haven’t that could well sum it up.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 12:51pm
        Nathan of Perth said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

        You think the WA media didn’t jump on top of Essendon with devilish glee?

    • Roar Guru

      March 14th 2013 @ 8:55am
      Redb said | March 14th 2013 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      As this story evolves more facts come to light and they highlight further differences between the clubs and ASADA.

      On the 730 report last night the alleged peptides taken by Cronulla and Essendon players were identified and they are different.

      The other is the corporate experience of the respective Chairmans. David Evans at Essendon is head of Evans & Parnters stockbrokers, Damien Irvine has no corporate experience (according to ben Ikin) – how could a Chairman of a football club in an elite comp have no little corporate experience?

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2013 @ 11:43am
        Dogs Of War said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:43am | ! Report

        That really sums up how out of their depth the Sharks are. For some reason there very financial supporters have never been able to lead the club well. So it’s usually been left to local business men to do it part time between running there own businesses.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 12:52pm
        Nathan of Perth said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

        And no CEO to go along with the inexperienced chairman.

        Do we know what experience the new bloke has? I’ve only heard property investor and former player.

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