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Cronulla Sharks sanctioned by NRL

CEO, Dave Smith announces the results of the NRL's investigation into the Cronulla Sharks.

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So was this rugby league's judgment day?

Not really.

More like a provisional judgment day, and even then it merely relates to the future of the Cronulla Sharks, their coach Shane Flanagan, who has been benched for a year, and former strength and conditioning coach Trent Elkin.

Shane Flanagan.

Scandal: Sharks coach Shane Flanagan. Photo: Sasha Woolley

There is still an Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation into the alleged use of banned peptides in rugby league that must run its course, with the star witness - controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank - yet to be interviewed.

In many respects, the pressure placed on the authority, by the former federal government's declaration in February of the ''widespread use'' of performance-enhancing substances across the codes, remains.

As it stands, former Penrith winger Sandor Earl is the only player from the NRL and AFL to be served with an infraction notice.

The timing of the announcement relating to the Sharks on Tuesday was curious, and spin doctors and cynical reporters could not help but think it was timed to coincide with Australia closing in on an Ashes series victory to take off some of the heat.

NRL chief executive Dave Smith does not think like that. He walks to the beat of his own drum, seemingly oblivious to those outside rugby league headquarters who want weighty decisions made to suit them and their timelines.

In the end, it was an anticlimax. Flanagan's suspension and Cronulla's $1 million fine have been speculated about for weeks. This was confirmation of what most felt was about to happen.

Cronulla stiffened their upper lip late on Tuesday when they released a statement that they were standing by the coach and will vigorously defend the charges of putting the health and safety of their players at risk.

The new administration, headed by former Sydney Kings player Damien Keogh, is mopping up the mess of others.

In mid-September, sitting in the sports bar of the Sharkies leagues club a few days before his side's brutal semi-final against Manly, Flanagan said he had done nothing wrong. He said he empathised with AFL coach James Hird, but insisted the supplement program at the Essendon Bombers was a world away from what had happened over a few weeks at his club in 2011.

''He was part of the supplement program - where I wasn't,'' he said. ''I had no knowledge of anything illegal or incorrect.''

In the end, that was enough for Smith to suspend Flanagan for a year - the same sanction the AFL slapped on Hird before his side could contest this year's finals.

Whether Flanagan knew his players were being injected or rubbed or gobbling down anything on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list is a point of argument.

But it is whether he should have known that has seen him potentially lose his job.

Someone had to be held accountable at the Sharks at some stage, and stating that you love the club - as Flanagan does, given his service through many dark times - is not an excuse for negligence on his watch.

The buck has to stop with someone, and in a dysfunctional club like the Sharks, it usually stops with the coach, who has played the role of chief executive in the absence of one.

What about the chairman? The man who once held that role, Damian Irvine, said he felt vindicated by Smith's announcement because his board tried to terminate Flanagan earlier this year. If he had still been in charge of the club on Tuesday, he too would have been headed down the same path as Flanagan. From now on, the chief executive of each club must front their own supplements committee to explain what is being taken by the players.

Club doctors must also front every quarter. It is a responsibility several medicos were not prepared to take on, having left rugby league as soon as the season was over, knowing of the firestorm the game was about to be engulfed in.

As one said about ASADA's investigation into rugby league before the Sharks sanctions were handed down: ''This isn't the end. It's merely the beginning and it will be uncertain for years to come.''

It is the first of several judgment days.