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Demise and dissent on the field directly linked to lack of accountability off it

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Mark down April 2 as the date when Cronulla's 2014 premiership hopes effectively ended after the Sharks announced that suspended coach Shane Flanagan would rejoin the club next season on a new three-year deal.

The day that players lost respect for referees was more recent, with the dissent shown by Chris Sandow and Nate Myles on Sunday indirectly linked to the re-appointment of Shayne Hayne and Ben Cummins to Origin II after their controversial performance in the series opener.

This column isn't defending the actions of Sandow and Myles or criticising caretaker Cronulla coach Peter Sharp in any way but the decisions made by the Cronulla board and those in charge of NRL referees left players confused about how accountable others in the game were.

By appointing Sharp as an interim coach, the Sharks signalled to their players that the club was merely treading water this season until Flanagan returns from his NRL imposed 12-month suspension at the end of the year.

It didn't matter how well or poorly they performed as Sharp, who is highly regarded within the game as both a person and a coach, had no interest in the job long term and nor was he ever going to be considered for it.

However, neither was anyone with an ambition to coach at NRL level and the club ruled out appointing Canberra assistant Brett Kimmorley to work with Sharp, while former North Queensland mentor Neil Henry was never an option.


In fact, no one was hired to cover the loss of Flanagan, with James Shepherd promoted from Under 20s to become Sharp's assistant and long serving juniors coach Dave Howlett moving from under 18s to take over his job, while NSW Cup coach Tony Herman also helps with the NRL team.

Despite winning just two of their 13 matches so far this season and on Saturday night becoming the first team in premiership history unable to score a point in three consecutive games, Cronulla officials have indicated it will be business as usual until Flanagan returns after again ruling out an approach from captain Paul Gallen to bring in Kimmorley for the rest of the season.

Gallen has been widely criticised for his comments on Triple M about team-mates not "putting 100 per cent in because they are under the impression Sharpie isn't putting 100 per cent in" but the NSW captain was simply being honest about his fears that the Sharks were destined for the wooden spoon this season.

While there is no doubt the club has been battered by an horrific injury toll this season, fans must now wonder whether some players would have played more games if they believed the club was serious about wanting to win a premiership this season.

Long suffering Cronulla supporters would also be right to question whether the match officials are against them after the Sharks had three tries disallowed in last Saturday night's 26-0 loss to Manly.

But no player can ask a referee "how much are they paying you" as Sandow did to Cummins in Melbourne on Sunday and expect to stay on the field.

Former leading referee, Super League chief executive and NRL match review committee boss Greg McCallum posted on Facebook: "If he had said it to me when I was refereeing I would have sent him straight off - not the sin bin".

Myles was also sin binned after a running battle with referees Gerard Sutton and Gavin Badger in which he asked for a second explanation of a penalty because "I've got selective hearing" and swore when protesting a try by St George Illawarra lock Trent Merrin in the Titans' 19-18 loss.

Gold Coast were trailing 18-12 at the time, while the Eels were down 24-16 and conceded three tries while Sandow was in the sin bin so both deserve criticism for costing their teams any chance of winning but their inexcusable behaviour came just days after an Origin match in which NSW and Queensland players were permitted to get away with virtually anything as Hayne and Cummins lost control.

Aware that Blues officials had wanted one or both of them sacked over a series of controversial rulings against NSW in the final minutes of Origin I, Hayne and Cummins were under severe pressure after retaining their positions and blew just 14 penalties last Wednesday night, while maintaining a skinny 10 metres that resulted in slow play the balls and the constant niggling tactics throughout the game.