Harsh sanctions for Sharks a strong stance for the NRL

TONY DURKINWHEN the drug scandal enveloping Australian sport broke in February, Wayne Bennett declared that systematic doping at an NRL club would not occur without the knowledge of the coach.

"No way" was Bennett's answer when asked if a doping agenda could operate with the head coach being unaware. And the lengthy and thorough investigation into the Sharks by the NRL Integrity Unit found just that, hence the reason coach Shane Flanagan has had to go.

The same rule of thumb applies to Trent Elkin, the former head of strength and conditioning at the Sharks. He, the investigation uncovered, was the person who actually administered the illegal supplements to players.

And unless they can convince the powers-that-be of some extenuating circumstances, Flanagan will not coach again until 2015 and Elkin will have his registration revoked until at least 2016. Harsh sanctions indeed, but an encouraging show of strength by the NRL.

From the outside looking in, the inquiry has been thorough and much more transparent than the elongated ASADA investigation. And commentators from both codes believe the NRL has handled the saga more cleanly, and more transparently, than the AFL did with Essendon.

Most significantly though, those chiefly responsible for the player doping at Shark Park back in 2011 have been snared. Unfortunately, one just happens to be Flanagan, someone regarded in the game as a battler, and a good bloke.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that this episode has hurt rugby league. It has tarnished the reputation of many, has cast aspersions on various clubs and players, and has risked the health and maybe even the lives of a number of fit and healthy young men. And if media reports are correct, at least five players who were injected with these unknown substances back in 2011 are seeking legal advice, meaning the sorry saga will be even further elongated.

Yet, bizarrely, people remain concerned about the welfare of Flanagan and Elkin. Not only is the Sharks board considering an appeal against their $1 million fine, they have stood behind Flanagan, describing him as an 'integral part of the club'.

And Parramatta chief executive Scott Seward has vigorously supported Elkin, who left the Sharks in 2011 to join the Eels. The new Eels boss has declared his No.1 priority is Elkin and his family.

In both cases the welfare of Flanagan and Elkin - men who have been found guilty of gross player mismanagement - and not the welfare of the Sharks players injected with unknown substances, is where his focus of the affected clubs lies.

This is loyalty grossly misplaced. These men, in whom the players trusted, let them down and breached their duty of care. They deserve to be thrown out of the game.


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