For Rugby League, the hits keep coming, even in the off-season.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has been sensationally de-registered by the NRL for dealing with the club while suspended in 2014.
The Sharks have been fined $800,000 – half of it suspended at the time over their supplements saga.
It’s a double hammer blow for the Sharks who are facing serious financial stress and are without a guernsey sponsor for season 2019.
“I can’t tell you how frustrating it is t be here again proposing penalties for breaches of the game’s rules,” NRL CEO Todd Greenberg told a press conference in Sydney Wednesday.
The NRL CEO spoke about the decision to de-register Cronulla Sharks coach Shane Flanagan for dealing with the club while suspended in 2014.
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“You’ll recall in 2016 we imposed a one million dollar fine and other sanctions on Parramatta for breaches of the salary cap. Last year we fined Manly $150,000 and imposed other penalties for the same thing. Across these two matters, we removed the registration of seven club officials.”
“So it is extremely disappointing that clubs are still looking to gain an unfair advantage by deliberately flouting the game’s rules,” Greenberg said.
Flanagan and the club have until the end of January to respond to a breach notice, which is when the NRL will make its final determination.
However, the Sharks will have to overturn evidence found by the NRL integrity unit that more than 50 emails were sent by Flanagan concerning retention and recruitment.
“The conditions that applied to Mr. Flanagan’s 2014 suspension were crystal clear,” Mr. Greenberg said.
“Shane and the club appear to have ignored those conditions.”
We’ve identified a substantial volume of material that supports the preliminary findings that Mr. Flanagan was closely and constantly involved with the club whilst suspended.”
His first correspondence was sent just weeks after his suspension and continued all the way to September 2014.
The club is believed to have initiated most of the discussions, resulting in the extra $400,000 fine.
However, no other club officials have been punished because then-CEO Steve Noyce and then-football manager Darren Mooney are no longer NRL officials.
At the time, NRL integrity unit investigators met with club representatives and Flanagan’s manager to ensure the coach had no contact with the club.
Towards the end of his suspension in September, Flanagan sent another email to the NRL unequivocally stating he had no involvement in player retention during his ban.
Meanwhile, Wests Tigers have also been stung with CEO Justin Pascoe being deregistered for a salary cap breach involving club legend Robbie Farrah.
Pascoe entered into an “ambassadorial role” agreement with Farah upon his retirement.
Greenberg was emphatic in his condemnation of the arrangement though no blame is apportioned to Farrah.
“The game’s rules are very, very clear on these arrangements. Any commitment to make such a payment should’ve been disclosed and it should’ve been included in the salary cap.
“The club failed to do this … it then compounded its conduct by submitting a misleading application to the NRL in relation to the salary cap treatment of money paid to Robbie when he left the club,” Mr Greenberg said.
In a statement, Wests Tigers said they were “shocked with the decision and extremely disappointed in the process.”
The Tigers claim there was nothing untoward about the arrangement.
“It’s an arrangement that Wests Tigers had with Robbie that is unrelated to his career as a player.”
It’s been an awful off-season for the NRL which has been reeling from a serious of sexual assault allegations and court appearances involving NRL stars.
Former Queensland premier Australian Rugby League Chairman Peter Beattie told Fox Sports the game is addressing its cultural crisis.
“These cases are killing our game, we’re making no excuses for what happened. The fact of it is we do not support violence against women, full stop. We’ll do everything we can to stamp that out.”
“If you’re convicted by a court then you won’t be registered to play the game,” Mr. Beattie said.
The NRL has initiated what it calls an “audit” of NRL clubs and their programs in relation to respect and responsibility towards women.
Mr. Beattie feels they fall short of the mark.
“There are programs that the NRL encourages clubs to run but frankly I think there is an argument that they’re not good enough and that’s one of the reasons why we’re doing an audit.”