Cronulla Sharks gutted by NRL penalties

RUGBY LEAGUE

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 yesterday hit by NRL chief executive Dave Smith with a proposed $1 million fine, as well as having coach Shane Flanagan provisionally suspended for 12 months.

The ban hits the 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.

To a club that has been perpetually 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 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 yesterday.

"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, also had his registration provisionally cancelled - Smith added that he would be welcome to reapply but that it would be unlikely to be considered for two years.

Flanagan and Elkin will be given until January 15 to appeal the punishments.

Noyce said Flanagan had the club's support. AAP

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