Who is to blame for Cronulla Sharks situation?

BRAD WALTER
Last updated 16:57 11/03/2013
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EMBROILED IN CRISIS: Kiwi league player Jeremy Smith, playing for the Sharks. He is now a member of the Knights.

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According to Shane Flanagan, the Cronulla players under a drugs cloud have done nothing wrong, the football club staff sacked last Friday have done nothing wrong, and the former trainer confronted by a number of angry Sharks players has also done nothing wrong.

The players say they have not knowingly taken any performance-enhancing substances, and believe the coaching staff at Cronulla in 2011 would never have put them them in a position where up to 14 members of the squad and eight former team-mates face doping bans.

So who is to blame for the scandal that threatens to not only destroy this season for the Sharks but the very existence of the already financially ravaged club?

"In my mind, [and] in 90 per cent of those player's minds, they have done nothing wrong here," Flanagan, who has been stood down from coaching, told Triple M on the weekend.

"They have only done what people put into positions at our club have told them to do, and those people who are put in those positions are respected and highly thought of people in our game of rugby league so why would they question it.

"They have just been put in this position by I don't know who and why but we have just got to deal with it."

Asked about football manager Darren Mooney, club doctor David Givney, head trainer Mark Noakes and physiotherapist Konrad Shultz, who were all sacked last Friday after an internal review, Flanagan said: "They are all very, very good people, and I categorically stand by all of those people. They have done nothing wrong in this situation, and I feel very sorry for them all."

Cronulla players showed their support for Flanagan and the sacked quartet before and after Sunday night's match, with skipper Paul Gallen having their names on a piece of tape strapped to his right forearm during the warm-up and winger Beau Ryan carrying a banner on the lap of honour that read "Bring back Flanno".

"The people that were here before would not do anything to hurt us players," Gallen said. "They are good people, and I would vouch for them any day of the week."

Gallen and teammates Ben Pomeroy and John Morris last week confronted former trainer Trent Elkin, who is alleged to have turned whistleblower against the Cronulla players, but Flanagan also defended the strength and conditioning coach, who now works for Parramatta.

"Trent is a very astute man and - like at every club - people are put in these positions to do a job, and supplements and strength and conditioning training, that is their role.

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"You trust these people to do a job, they tell you to take A, B, C and the player will take A, B, C. To this day the players believe they have done nothing wrong, I believe Trent Elkin has done nothing wrong here, and it is still to be proved that anyone involved at our club has done anything wrong."

Yet the Sharks board clearly believes that few at the club in 2011 can claim to be totally innocent. 

They engaged former ASADA senior counsel Richard Redman, who, after learning of the evidence the anti-doping authority, has advised the players to plead guilty and accept six-month bans, and former ASADA deputy chair Dr Tricia Kavanagh, who conducted a review that recommended Mooney, Givney, Noakes and Schultz be sacked and Flanagan stood down.

Controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank, who also maintains he has done nothing wrong, is at the centre of the allegations but how did he become involved with the team for a five-month period up to May 29, 2011 when he was never officially employed by the club?

Givney's daughter confirmed in a post on Facebook that the club doctor had clashed with Elkin and Dank after discovering players were being secretly injected with the blood-thinning drug warfarin.

Players are also alleged to have been injected with the hormone-releasing peptide CJC-1295 and Thymosin beta-4, a healing agent used on horses.

But since when did players begin having injections before matches, and if true why weren't the alarm bells ringing loudly when it was suggested anyone - particularly if they weren't a qualified doctor - stick a needle in them?

As head coach, Flanagan obviously has to accept a lot of the responsibility if it is proved that performance-enhancing drugs were given to Cronulla players but the Sharks board can't escape scot-free either after deputy chairman Keith Ward admitted last Friday the club did not employ a chief executive officer for financial reasons.

The lack of resources at the Sharks has meant that Flanagan and the smallest football club staff in the NRL have struggled to devote as much time in certain areas as they perhaps needed to.

If so, the Sharks could be about to pay the ultimate price for years of cost-cutting.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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