NRL boss Dave Smith announces the sanctions against Cronulla

NRL boss Dave Smith announces the sanctions against Cronulla Photo: Tamara Dean

Information produced by the NRL's new high-tech integrity unit led to the historic sanctions against Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan and trainer Trent Elkin, but old-fashioned rugby league mercy may ultimately lead to some reduction in the penalties.

ARLC chief executive Dave Smith praised the research done by the code's new head of the integrity department, Nick Weeks, and the recently appointed boss of corporate governance, Jim Doyle, particularly their diverse inquiries, including tapping legal sources of information.

''All legal inputs have been drawn upon to establish these provisional set of findings,'' he said. ''The process has been very strong, utilising a number of experts.''

Yet Smith has allowed Flanagan, suspended for a year, and Elkin, provisionally banned for life, to respond to the charges against them.

If they make submissions, he will eventually decide if the NRL Appeals Tribunal, headed by a former High Court judge, Ian Callinan, QC, can hear the case and potentially reduce the bans. ''In reality, I only have to give them a week to make their submissions to me but I'm giving them until January 15,'' Smith said. ''I'll take a period of time and only then will I make a final recommendation.''

The tribunal also includes former player Luke Priddis and dual international Mike Cleary, a former NSW sports minister. ''There have been no deals. It's all been very orderly and very transparent,'' Smith said.

While Smith refused to be drawn into any comparison with the AFL's compromised, secretive, ''boys club'' process that led to sanctions against Essendon, his description of the NRL approach demonstrates he was determined to strike a difference.

Whereas the AFL joined with ASADA and produced an interim report that led to a year's suspension for coach James Hird, a $2 million fine, loss of draft picks, a short suspension for a football manager and banishment from this year's finals, the NRL strategy was to hold an independent inquiry and not to be panicked into a judgment on the eve of the finals.

The AFL/Essendon deal, produced with the co-operation of three of Melbourne's top business people, has blown up with daily front-page stories from the Hird camp embarrassing the AFL.

While the Cronulla sanctions, including the maximum allowed $1 million fine, may follow the same route, Smith is convinced his treatment of the supplements saga can show the top end of town and government his code deserves the same lofty approval as the AFL.

''When this information [from the ACC] was pitched up to me in Canberra [before his official duties began], it was always clear they were serious allegations but very complex and would not get fixed up overnight,'' he said. ''So I had eyes on two things. One, to approach it with thoroughness and two, make sure we can learn from this. We now have an integrity unit, a blood passport and a supplements register. Ultimately, the code will be in a stronger place.''

Asked if the sanctions reflected on the ASADA inquiry into the use of performance-enhancing drugs by players, he said: ''We made sure we did not compromise the investigation. We waited until the player interviews were over. We've used our own information over the past few months.''

While Flanagan's 12 month suspension is the same as Hird's, it is inevitable comparisons will be drawn between the Sharks' three weeks of injections under a coach who didn't do his homework and Essendon's 12-month regime of injections, involving 1200 needles and 6400 tablets, supervised by a coach who studied the whole show.

''I can understand why people would make comparisons but, for me, there are different factors involved,'' Smith said.

With mission accomplished - the demonstration of the NRL's superior approach under a new administration and commission, compared with the AFL's bungling - it remains to be seen if these ''different factors'' produce a diminished penalty for Flanagan.