Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has paid the price for his blind faith in former head trainer Trent Elkin after the pair were the only members of the Sharks 2011 staff sanctioned by the NRL over the club's supplements program.
Flanagan received a 12-month ban that goes beyond the term of his current contract after an NRL investigation determined he was ultimately responsible for the events at the club in 2011 that endangered players' health and careers.
However, NRL chief executive Dave Smith left little doubt who had been identified as the main culprit at the press conference in which he announced a $1 million fine against Cronulla and the suspension of Flanagan and Elkin. Flanagan's suspension, which commences immediately and is not due to finish until after his $350,000-per-season contract expires on October 31 next year, was largely for failing to assert control over Elkin.
In contrast, Elkin was accused of injecting players with substances that ''to this day remain unknown'', keeping details of the supplements program secret from then Sharks doctor David Givney and misrepresenting ''material facts'' about the program.
''It is therefore proposed that his registration be cancelled,'' Smith said of Elkin, who now works for Parramatta. ''If that is the decision I finally make, he will be free to apply for registration at some point in the future. However, it would be fair to say, it is unlikely any such application would receive favourable consideration if it is brought at any time within the next two years.'' The decision not to take action against Givney or any of the other three Cronulla staff members sacked earlier this year after an internal investigation by the Sharks effectively apportions most of the blame to Elkin.
Even fellow trainer Mark Noakes, who was the club's anti-doping officer in 2011, escaped any penalty - despite not phoning ASADA until February this year to check whether any of the substances allegedly administered to Sharks players were on the banned list.
Givney, former football manager Darren Mooney and physiotherapist Konrad Schultz also escaped sanctions and Smith said the findings of the investigation conducted by the NRL independently of ASADA were that no other support staff should face penalties.
However, Flanagan - as head coach - was ultimately responsible for what took place and he allowed Elkin to invite controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank into the fold in early 2011. While Flanagan maintains he did not know players were being administered with substances, which are alleged to have included the banned peptides CJC-1295 and GHRP-6, concerns about Dank and Elkin were raised with him by other staff members.
Having failed to ''properly supervise'' Elkin and ensure he "complied with his obligation" to obtain approval from Givney for changes to the club's supplements program, Flanagan had the chance to put an end to it at a meeting on April 7, 2011.
However, the report tabled by NRL chief investigator Nick Weekes found that not only did he ''fail to take appropriate action'' when he learnt of the ''unsafe practices'' but he also failed to ensure Elkin complied with protocols put in place at that meeting.
For that, Flanagan will now be forced to watch the 2014 season from the sidelines with his coaching future uncertain.