Cronulla chief executive Barry Russell has resigned from his post, ending months of speculation over his future.
Russell will finish up next month after navigating the Sharks through the salary cap scandal following an NRL investigation he sparked by self-reporting anomalies to head office.
The Herald revealed last month it was likely Russell would part company with the club once the matter was resolved.
Having finally secured a major sponsor, Russell’s final task is to shed at least one player before the start of the season to ensure the Sharks are salary cap compliant.
“It is with great sadness that I inform Cronulla Sharks members, fans and corporate partners that I have made the decision to resign from my role as Cronulla Sharks Group CEO,” Russell said in a statement.
“I will depart the club in early April after ensuring we are salary cap compliant for the 2019 season.
“It has been a very tough 12 months, both for the club and for me personally. As you are aware, there have been several challenges we have had to face and resolve, particularly concerning integrity, governance, finances, personnel and structural change within the business.
“When I made the decision to self-report a salary cap discrepancy last year with the full approval of the board, I most certainly did not foresee all the issues that were to follow. As hard as it has been I did however remain committed to seeing the club through these challenging times and set a new course of proper governance and integrity.
"I’m proud that I’ve been able to clean this mess up and give the club every chance of success.”
Russell 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 staff.
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 the NRL.
“We are now through this very difficult period and I believe the time is right for the club to have a fresh start and be taken forward in a new direction,” Russell said.
“A new CEO will have the opportunity to start with a clean slate, alongside our talented new head coach John Morris, and build the best structure possible to lead the club forward without any negative remnants from the past 12 months.
I’m proud that I’ve been able to clean this mess up and give the club every chance of success.Barry Russell
“I’m so proud of what I have achieved over the last year and see this as a real turning point for the club. It breaks my heart to walk away from a club that has done so much for me and I have a great love for. This has been my greatest honour. I will always operate with the club’s best interests at heart and I know this is best for our club and myself.
“My love for and loyalty to the Sharks remains forever strong and I want nothing but its long-term success. The Sharks will be a powerful force during the 2019 season and well into the future."