Cronulla emerge from salary cap scandal with new major sponsor
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Cronulla emerge from salary cap scandal with new major sponsor

Cronulla have emerged from their salary cap scandal with a new major sponsor before the start of the NRL season.

Sharks chief executive Barry Russell is bullish about the club's future.

Sharks chief executive Barry Russell is bullish about the club's future.Credit:AAP

In a huge boost for the their premiership campaign, the Sharks have found a major backer that will soon be announced, potentially as early as Sunday. The Herald can reveal Ace Gutters - an Australian-owned manufacturer of rainwater, roofing and plumbing supplies - has signed on for a two-year $1.6 million deal.

The battle for corporate dollars has never been more difficult in rugby league due to a spate of serious off-field incidents, several of them involving alleged violence against women and resulting in police charges. It is estimated the game has lost up to $10 million in potential sponsorship revenue over the summer alone, as clubs complain it is almost impossible to generate new business.

The Sharks had considered offering the front of their jersey to a charity partner, a move akin to the partnership Canterbury entered into with Camp Quality when the Bulldogs were a hard sell to corporates a decade ago. However, in an indication of the resilience of the Sharks brand, the club will have a new firm taking pride of place on the sky blue for the round one clash against Newcastle.

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“I’m still very hopeful we will secure a major prior to the start of the season,” said Cronulla CEO Barry Russell.

“Ultimately if there is an opportunity to put a charity there we would, but the preference is to run out with a sponsor on the front of the jersey.

“That would give a lot of confidence to the players, fans and retail merchandise guys, it has an effect on the whole business. I’m very confident we’ll have a major sponsor secured.”

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Having only just recovered from the ASADA scandal, Cronulla experienced another governance failing. The club came forward after a promised $50,000 payment to forward Chris Heighington was unearthed by former NRL salary cap auditor Jamie L’Oste-Brown shortly after he joined the club. That sparked a wider probe that subsequently cost Cronulla their premiership-winning coach, Shane Flanagan, after it emerged he contravened the rules of his suspension by communicating with staffers.

The NRL found, among other transgressions, that a former Cronulla director allegedly set up a company to provide third-party agreements for Sharks players in 2017 in a bid to keep its premiership-winning squad together.

All up, the Sharks were fined $750,000 for breaches dating back to 2013, although $500,000 of that was suspended because Russell brought his concerns to head office.

I think it’s relief more than anything that it has finally come to an end for the club.

Barry Russell

The Sharks will be forced to lose a player before the current season begins after also copping a salary cap penalty of $353,000 for this year and next. NRL CEO Todd Greenberg praised Russell coming forward, a move that was taken into account in finalising the sanctions.

“It’s been a long, drawn-out process,” Russell said.

“I think it’s relief more than anything that it has finally come to an end for the club.

“To move forward we needed to close that chapter. That we have, it’s closed. It’s not pretty, it’s disappointing but we just have to cop it on the chin with brand new governance and processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again. You have to uphold the integrity of your club.

“You only have to look at our history, we obviously haven’t learned from the past. I would definitely do it all again.”

Forward Ava Seumanufagai could be the player that makes way after being linked to Leeds, while the Brailey brothers Blayke and Jayden would also hold appeal for rival clubs.

“We’re playing with people’s lives here so we have to be careful what we do and how we do it,” Russell said.

“Ultimately we will come up with the best outcome we can for the player and the club. We haven’t got anything decisive, there are a lot of different options and scenarios we’re looking at.”

Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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