Cronulla and the NRL are adamant the heavy penalties handed down over their controversial 2011 supplement program won’t bury the under-pressure club.
Cronulla were on Tuesday hit by NRL chief executive Dave Smith with a proposed $1 million fine as well as having their coach, Shane Flanagan, provisionally suspended for 12 months.
The ban hits the embattled Sharks the two places it hurts them most – the heart and the back pocket.
In Flanagan, they lose the man credited with keeping the club together during the course of the ASADA investigation.
But to a club that has perpetually been financially weak to wear such a significant fine, though $400,000 of it is suspended, has many concerned it could be a terminal punishment.
The Sharks plan to fight the charges, and insist that they will continue to exist in their current form – and not be relocated to Perth or central Queensland.
“We would also like to take this opportunity to assure Sharks members, sponsors and fans that while substantial, the proposed penalties will not distract us from our vision of continuing to build a successful club, in the Sutherland Shire, well into the future,” chief executive Steve Noyce said in a statement.
“…Since 2011 the club has undergone transformational change including a comprehensive management restructure, significantly improved resourcing, under the guidance of a new chairman and board of directors.”
The provisional view of the NRL is that Flanagan and former strength and conditioning coach Trent Elkin failed in their duty of care to players, putting the athletes at risk and exposing them to possible violations of the game’s anti-doping code.
Smith made no apologies for the heavy punishment – saying the club had failed many of the players in regards to safeguarding their health and welfare.
“If the provisional findings turn out to be correct, fundamentally we cannot have a situation where our players’ welfare is put at risk,” Smith said.
But he believes they’re in a strong enough position, under the new board led by Damien Keogh, to prosper despite the devastating blows delivered on Tuesday.
“Fundamentally it’s about helping the board, the club now to move into a stronger position,” he said.
“As a code, as a CEO, I’m right behind them.”
NRL integrity commissioner Jim Doyle added: “That’s why we’ve implemented the suspended $400,000, in order to help them actually improve as a club rather than just hit them with a $1 million fine.”
Elkin, who now works for Parramatta, has also had his registration provisionally cancelled – with Smith adding he would be welcome to reapply, but that it would be unlikely to be considered for two years.
Flanagan and Elkin will both be given until January 15 to appeal the punishments.
Noyce said Flanagan had the club’s support regarding the findings against him.
Cronulla have been in the sights of ASADA for the alleged use of illegal peptides since the drugs in sport investigation was announced by the Australian Crime Commission on February 7.
In March, the Sharks launched an investigation into happenings at the club in the 2011 season, which was overseen by sports scientist Stephen Dank.
Flanagan was stood down by the Sharks, along with four other staff members, however he was reinstated on March 22 following a second review by a different consultancy group.
However, Flanagan is set to have no involvement with the Sharks’ 2014 season, with Brett Kimmorley an early favourite to take over the reins as coach.
HOW THE NRL DRUGS SAGA UNFOLDED IN 2013
February 7 – Australian Crime Commission (ACC) announce a year-long investigation has uncovered widespread use of drugs in Australian sport. NRL appoints former Federal Court judge Tony Whitlam to probe the allegations.
February 12 – Cronulla, Manly, Newcastle, North Queensland, Penrith and Canberra announce they were implicated in the ACC’s report, and discuss possible amnesties with ASADA for players and officials who come forward early.
February 13 – Cronulla reveal part of their 2011 season is under scrutiny but that no players have tested positive for performance-enhancing substances.
February 14 – ASADA says it expects to interview about 150 people as part of its “unprecedented” doping investigation.
March 6 – Cronulla confirm meeting with ASADA. Bookies suspend betting on the Sharks’ season-opener against the Gold Coast.
March 8 – Cronulla stand down coach Shane Flanagan on full pay pending a management review at the club, and sack football general manager Darren Mooney, head trainer Mark Noaks, club doctor David Givney and physio Konrad Schultz. Bruno Cullen appointed new interim CEO.
March 13 – Damian Irvine quits as Cronulla chairman following reports he claimed players were injected with horse drugs in 2011.
March 20 – NRL confirms ASADA will interview 31 players after completing the first phase of its investigation.
March 22 – Shane Flanagan reinstated as Sharks coach following a second review by consultancy firm Grant Thornton.
April 3 – Cronulla appoint Steve Noyce as general manager of football.
April 29 – Sharks back-rower Wade Graham becomes first NRL player to be interviewed by ASADA. The authority later suspends interviews with NRL players, with lawyers from both sides at loggerheads over how much information players are required to divulge.
May 12 – Extracts of a report by ex-ASADA deputy chair Dr Tricia Kavanagh published by News Corp, claiming the Sharks employed a systematic regimen of peptides in 2011 in a program of injections, tablets and creams over an 11-week period while sports scientist Stephen Dank was linked to the club.
May 30 – ASADA CEO Aurora Andruska tells a Senate estimates hearing 113 interviews had been conducted and more than 50,000 documents examined since Feburary 7.
June 27 – Federal parliament passes laws that grant ASADA powers to compel suspect athletes and others to hand over documents and turn up for questioning, with a fine of up to $5100 for those who don’t. Effective August 1.
July 22 – The NRL issues directives to 30 players and support staff – including 10 from Cronulla – to schedule interviews with ASADA. The league says it will step in to ensure co-operation between interviewees and investigators.
July 29 – Cronulla reinstate sacked trainer Mark Noakes, reach a settlement with long-time team doctor David Givney and physiotherapist Konrad Schultz and resumes talkes with axed football manager Darren Mooney. The Sharks also apologise and publicly retracts statements it made that might have caused damage to the reputations of the four men and their families.
July 29 – Interim CEO Bruno Cullen quits the Sharks.
July 31 – Cronulla appoint Steve Noyce as interim CEO.
August 1 – ASADA begins interviews with 30 NRL players and support staff.
August 6 – Sharks skipper Paul Gallen and Manly’s Anthony Watmough’s mobile phones reportedly seized by Customs at Sydney airport.
August 20 – ABC’s 7.30 program alleges cash payments were made to Sharks skipper Paul Gallen outside the salary cap and the existence of a private bank account – operated by coach Shane Flanagan – off the club’s books.
August 21 – NRL CEO Dave Smith confirms the “high performance unit” bank account is being investigated by the Integrity Unit.
August 29 – Canberra winger Sandor Earl is suspended and issued with an NRL infraction notice after admitting to using and trafficking the banned peptide CJC-1295. He is the first player, in either NRL or AFL, to be charged as a result of ASADA’s doping investigation.
September 25 – Reports emerge the NRL is considering relocating Cronulla to Queensland if the club is burdened with a multi-million dollar fine arising from ASADA’s probe.
December 11 – ARL Commissioners and NRL integrity unit meet for 10 hours on the progress of the investigation into Cronulla’s 2011 supplements program.
December 13 – ASADA interviews supplement salesman Darren “The Gazelle” Hibbert.
December 17 – The NRL announces its provisional findings against Cronulla, proposing the club be slapped with a $1 million fine, coach Shane Flanagan be suspended for 12 months, and the cancellation of former strength and conditioning coach Trent Elkin’s registration.