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 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, it 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.