Paul Gallen declared Cronulla ‘‘the most resilient brand in Australian sport’’. Chief executive Barry Russell firmly believes the Sharks can win the premiership next year.
As rival fans took to social media to call for Cronulla to finally be relocated following their latest indiscretion, the two most important men entrusted with guiding the Shire club forward were full of optimism about the immediate future.
Had Russell not picked up the phone and contacted the NRL about an apparent salary cap discrepancy, it would never have led to the investigation that ultimately cost coach Shane Flanagan his job and the Sharks an $800,000 fine.
Flanagan has been hit hard by the second ban with his wellbeing a priority for the Sharks.
Russell said he would happily self-report any financial discrepancies again if in a similar situation. ‘‘I had to self-report, and if you haven’t got integrity you haven’t got anything,’’ Russell said yesterday. ‘‘I would do the same thing again. If you’ve done the wrong thing, you have to suffer the consequences. Nobody is bigger than the game or the club. I want to make this club, and with everyone here, our staff, members and fans, a club everyone is proud of.’’
Gallen, 37, has seen it all unfold at Cronulla since 2001, including the peptides scandal, and knows better than anyone how the little club that continually punches above its weight on the field reacts to adversity.
‘‘I’ve seen this [scandal] before,’’ Gallen said. ‘‘It’s not good, it’s a distraction, but times like these you find out a lot about people – who’s with you, who’s not – and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again about this club, it’s the most resilient brand in Australian sport.
‘‘We’ve faced going broke half a dozen times, we’ve been through scandals, a lot of them our own fault, but we’re still here fighting. And we’ll continue to fight.’’
Russell said he would challenge the NRL’s proposed $800,000 fine because the club had self-reported the latest financial concerns. The Sharks are bracing for a $4 million loss this year, but Russell said the club would still be able to cover the fine if it was not reduced.
Cronulla remain without a major sponsor for the front of their jerseys, which would conservatively fetch about $1 million a season, and Russell at one stage broke into a sales pitch at a packed press conference.
‘‘It’s an ideal opportunity for a major sponsor to get on board and be part of an exciting new future at this club, because we ain’t looking back; this stuff is finished, I’m finished with it,’’ Russell said. ‘‘We are going forward, together. Look at these boys [behind me], look at the squad we’ve got. We can win the premiership next year, I firmly believe that. This is a speed hump – it’s a fairly decent one – but we’ll get over with it.’’
NRL boss Todd Greenberg said he had no intention to relocate the Sharks, who have often struggled financially and attracted plenty of negative headlines, including Andrew Fifita’s on-field show of support for one-punch killer Kieran Loveridge, Todd Carney’s ‘‘bubbler’’ and Ben Barba and Damien Keogh’s cocaine bans.
The Sharks’ woes would not have been lost on the franchises sweating on an opportunity to join the NRL.
‘‘They are unbelievably important, incredibly important [to the NRL],’’ Greenberg said of Cronulla. ‘‘We want all 16 teams operating at their best capacity. That’s why the funding deal done with clubs ensures they’re better placed than ever before. Nothing would give me more pleasure than having 16 strong sustainable clubs who are well led, well managed and well governed: that’s the goal.’’
When pressed on Cronulla staying in Sydney, Greenberg said: ‘‘We would love to see Cronulla thriving in the Shire. We want them to be their very best self.’’
Russell said Flanagan, who delivered the club its only NRL title, and was waiting to be offered a contract extension beyond next season, was ‘‘extremely upset and disappointed’’.