Cronulla Sharks set to stand by embattled coach
Cronulla chairman Damian Keogh says the club is strongly considering fighting the $1 million fine proposed by the NRL and will contemplate backing coach Shane Flanagan in any bid to clear his name as he faces a one-year ban from the code.
The Sharks are even considering extending Flanagan's contract and have not ruled out paying him during the suspension that was announced by NRL boss Dave Smith at a press conference at league headquarters on Tuesday.
Keogh was due to meet met with fellow directors and Cronulla boss Steve Noyce ahead of Christmas drinks with club sponsors on Tuesday night and said they would stand by Flanagan.
''We have got a board meeting on Thursday and with our legal advisors we will go over the full mechanics of the breach notice and the various charges against the club and Shane,'' Keogh said. ''If there is grounds to appeal or argue against some of the decisions that have been made, then we will obviously follow some of those.''
Flanagan and the Sharks have until January 15 to launch an appeal to the code's governing body after the NRL's preliminary findings stated Flanagan had failed to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for players, had failed to properly supervise the head of strength and conditioning, Trent Elkin, and had failed to ensure Elkin complied with his obligation to inform the club.
''In terms of assisting Shane in his appeal process, we may,'' Keogh said. ''We will talk about it. He certainly has a lot of support about the club at a whole different level, including the board. Shane has got a lot of support and loyalty from the playing ranks and staff. He has been a pivotal member of the football club.''
The former Sydney Kings captain also said Flanagan had been harshly dealt with, adding: ''I think certainly by contrast of offences with say a James Hird [the Essendon coach banned for 12 months by the AFL], he has been asked to paid a pretty high price.''
Keogh said Cronulla were yet to decide whether to keep paying Flanagan his $350,000-per-season contract while he sits on the sidelines but insisted the matter was ''irrelevant''.
The NRL left the door open for them to do so, with Smith saying the league would not interfere in an employer-employee relationship between the club and the coach.
Whether Cronulla can afford to do so is another matter. While $400,000 of the $1 million fine handed down to Cronulla will be suspended, the costs of the ASADA investigation into the club continue to build.
Fairfax Media understands about $800,000 had already been spent on lawyers, public relations experts and the Kavanagh report while a $150,000 salary cap fine added to the club's financial misery earlier this year.
But Keogh said the club would not go broke. ''If the fine stands as it is, it's something we are going to have to deal with - it won't bankrupt us,'' he said. ''The club's finances are strong overall.''
Cronulla was criticised by Smith for exposing the players to ''significant'' health risks, exposing them to possible breaches of the NRL anti-doping rules and allowing people without the necessary qualifications and training to administer supplements to players.
Flanagan, whose ban will be reduced to nine months should he undergo ''further education and training'', was locked in meetings with his management team and lawyers on Tuesday afternoon.
Elkin, now at Parramatta, has been stood down for at least two years. His club said it is focused on the ''welfare of Trent and his family during this difficult time''.
It is understood Cronulla players were injected with peptides CJC-1295 and GHRP-6 during 2011, when sports scientist Stephen Dank was involved with the club. Smith said players were injected with ''unknown substances''.
Other clubs who have been linked to Dank, including Penrith and Manly, have been cleared of any management failures following the NRL's investigation.
Keogh had yet to speak with Flanagan, while chief executive Steve Noyce spoke with the players on Tuesday.
''Steve [Noyce] has addressed the players,'' Keogh said. ''We will keep them and the staff abreast.''
The NRL's investigations are separate to any sanction players may receive once the ASADA probe is complete.
Sydney Morning Herald