Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks supplements saga

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The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks supplements saga was a sports controversy which began in 2011. The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, a professional rugby league club playing in the National Rugby League (NRL), was investigated starting in February 2013 by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) over the legality of its supplements program during the 2011 NRL season and the preceding preseason. In August 2014, the players were found guilty of having used the banned peptide CJC-1295, resulting in the suspensions of fourteen players who were part of the program.[1]

The process had serious ramifications and adverse effects on the football club as a whole. A number of senior staff were either dismissed or resigned, matches were played at a sub-par standard as players were physically, emotionally and socially affected, and it partially played a role in the club winning the wooden spoon in 2014.[2] Several senior club members, including senior coach Shane Flanagan and trainer Trent Elkin, received penalties and suspensions.

Senior staff no longer at the club due to the controversy include Damian Irvine (former chairman), Bruno Cullen (former CEO), Darren Mooney (former football manager), Mark Noakes (head trainer) and Trent Elkin (former club trainer), among others.[3]

Shane Flanagan's suspension expired on 31 October 2014, whilst Trent Elkin is not allowed to work at another NRL club as part of his punishment.[4][5][6]


In February 2013, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks were implicated in the Australian Crime Commission (ACC)'s report "Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport". The club conducted its own investigation into allegations of illegal performance-enhancing substance use but also awaited findings from Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA)'s investigation.[7] This came a week after the AFL's Essendon Football Club asked ASADA to investigate concerns over the club's possible use of prohibited supplements during the 2012 AFL season.[8]

In the wake of the report by the ACC, the Sharks then launched an investigation into a brief period of their 2011 season, and afterwards claimed that none of its players had illegally taken any performance-enhancing drugs during that season.[9]

In March, it was revealed that up to 14 unnamed Sharks players were interviewed by ASADA in relation to the distribution of banned substances during the aforementioned 2011 season. They were offered a voluntary six-month ban if they owned up, but if found guilty they would have risked a maximum two-year ban from the sport.[10][11] Afterwards, just two days before the club's season-opening match against the Gold Coast Titans, head coach Shane Flanagan was suspended indefinitely pending the investigation by ASADA.[12] At the same time, former Brisbane Broncos CEO Bruno Cullen was hired by the club as its interim CEO.[13]

Timeline of events[edit]

  • 12 February 2013: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks are among one of six clubs named in the Australian Crime Commission (ACC)'s report "Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport".[7]
  • 13 February 2013: The club launches an investigation into their 2011 season, in which the club denies distributing any illegal performance-enhancing substances to its players.[9]
  • 6 and 7 March 2013: Up to 14 unnamed Sharks players named in ASADA's report into the club's supplements program are offered a six-month ban by the governing body, but all declined.[7][11]
  • 8 March 2013: Head coach Shane Flanagan is suspended indefinitely by the club as the investigation into the club's supplements program continues. Peter Sharp takes the reins of the club during this period.[12]
  • 10 March 2013: The Sharks win their opening game of the 2013 NRL season, defeating the Gold Coast Titans by 12–10 with Sharp in the coaches box.[14]
  • 13 March 2013: Chairman Damien Irvine quits as the club's chairman.[3]
  • 22 March 2013: Flanagan is reinstated as head coach of the Sharks.[15]
  • 29 April 2013: Wade Graham is among the first of many Sharks players to be interviewed by ASADA, however, he causes a major controversy by attending the interview in casual attire.[16] All further scheduled interviews are postponed for the remainder of the week.[17]
  • 13 May 2013: Interviews between ASADA and the players implicated in the report resume.[18]
  • 9 August 2013: Graham is interviewed for a second time three months after the aforementioned interview prompted investigators to postpone the inquiry into the Sharks by the same amount of time. He was the last of five Sharks players to be interviewed that week.[19]
  • 23 August 2013: Sharks captain Paul Gallen is the last of eleven players to be interviewed by ASADA.[20]
  • 21 November 2013: ASADA's investigation into the Cronulla supplements use is completed, however this is not made public.[21]
  • 17 December 2013: The NRL announce a series of penalties upon the club, which included the 12-month suspension of Shane Flanagan as head coach, a $1,000,000 fine (with $400,000 suspended) and the deregistration of Trent Elkin as the club's trainer.[5][6][22]
  • 20 August 2014: Several past and present Sharks players, notably those from the club's 2011 season, and five members of the current squad, are issued show cause notices and offered a playing ban of up to 12 months, backdated to 21 November 2013.[23]
  • 22 August 2014: The players in question, involving captain Paul Gallen and Gold Coast Titans prop Luke Douglas, among others, accept their bans but due to the backdating of them, will miss at least the remainder of the 2014 season only. For Douglas, it ended his record of 215 consecutive games from his NRL debut.[24][25]
  • 30 September 2014: WADA announces in statement that it will not appeal the bans, in part due to delays not attributable to the players.[26]
  • 31 October 2014: Shane Flanagan's suspension is lifted by the NRL.[4]
  • 8 March 2016: Five Cronulla players who were not part of the group which accepted suspensions in August 2014 were issued violation notices relating to the program.[27]
  • 12 October 2016: The aforementioned five players receive expired, backdated bans.[28]


On 17 December 2013, following more than nine months of investigations into the Sharks' supplements program, NRL CEO David Smith announced the following provisional[29] penalties:[22]

  • A 12-month ban for head coach Shane Flanagan, effective immediately, with a possible reduction by three months pending further conditions as determined by the NRL;[5]
  • A $1,000,000 fine for the club, with $400,000 suspended if the club could satisfy several governance conditions;[5] and
  • The deregistration of Trent Elkin as the club's trainer in addition to an indefinite ban from the NRL.[6]

Flanagan and Elkin both lodged their appeals to the findings in early 2014,[29] but both were dismissed and their suspensions stood.[30] At the time, no players or other club officials were officially implicated in the findings,[22] however, on 20 August 2014, several players, notably those from the club's 2011 season and five players from the current squad, were issued show cause notices offering them twelve-month bans backdating to 21 November 2013 if they admitted to taking illegal substances during the 2011 season.[23] Without hesitation, most of these players accepted the bans, including captain Paul Gallen; for the former, it ruled him out of the upcoming 2014 Rugby League Four Nations tournament at the end of the season.[25]

The players who were issued the show cause notices by ASADA under the politician Peter Dutton who is Sports Minister, and subsequently banned, were:

It was later announced by the National Rugby League that each of the players implicated in the supplements scandal would be barred from receiving awards at the 2014 Dally M Awards ceremony in September; in addition, captain Paul Gallen was also ruled ineligible for the Brad Fittler Medal for being the best performed New South Wales player during their victorious State of Origin series campaign.[31]

Five players further players alleged to have been involved in the program, but who were not part of the group which admitted guilt and accepted suspensions in 2014, were issued violation notices by the NRL on 8 March 2016. These players were: Colin Best, Paul Aiton, Ben Pomeroy, John Williams and Stuart Flanagan.[27] All five pleaded guilty, and were given twelve month suspensions; but, with backdating caused in part by the delays in prosecuting the case, the suspensions had already expired.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walter, Brad (25 August 2014). "Who 'duped' Cronulla Sharks players and how did they do it?". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 October 2016. 
  2. ^ Mastermind season review: Cronulla Sharks, The Roar, 13 September 2014
  3. ^ a b Cronulla Sharks chairman Damian Irvine quits club, The Australian, 13 March 2013
  4. ^ a b Shane Flanagan cleared by NRL to return Archived 31 October 2014 at, Yahoo!7 Sport, 31 October 2014
  5. ^ a b c d Sharks fined $1m, Flanagan suspended, official website, 17 December 2013
  6. ^ a b c NRL hits Cronulla Sharks with $1m fine, year ban for coach Shane Flanagan, indefinite ban for trainer Trent Elkin,, 17 December 2013
  7. ^ a b c NRL clubs step into spotlight in doping probe, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 12 February 2013
  8. ^ Bowen, Nick. "Dons in ASADA probe". Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Sharks reveal probe into their 2011 season, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 13 February 2013
  10. ^ ASADA probe pushes Sharks into crisis mode, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 6 March 2013
  11. ^ a b Sharks players warned to come forward, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 7 March 2013
  12. ^ a b Sharks stand down Flanagan, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 8 March 2013
  13. ^ Sharks clean house amid ASADA fallout, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 8 March 2013
  14. ^ Sharks shrug off horror week with Titans win, ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 10 March 2013
  15. ^ Shane Flanagan reinstated as Cronulla head coach, The Australian, 22 March 2013
  16. ^ Cronulla Sharks forward Wade Graham facing fine for fashion disaster, The Daily Telegraph, 1 May 2013
  17. ^ ASADA investigation into potential Sharks doping practices stalls during Wade Graham interview, Fox Sports Australia, 29 April 2013
  18. ^ ASADA to continue supplement probe into Cronulla Sharks, The Australian, 13 May 2013
  19. ^ Cronulla player's second interview, The Australian, 9 August 2013
  20. ^ ASADA interviews finish with Cronulla Sharks skipper Paul Gallen, The Daily Telegraph, 23 August 2013
  21. ^ Sharks ASADA case: Paul Gallen and majority of Cronulla players accept deal for reduced ban, The Daily Telegraph, 22 August 2013
  22. ^ a b c NRL fines Cronulla $1 million, bans coach Shane Flanagan for 12 months over supplements: report, ABC Grandstand Sport (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 17 December 2013
  23. ^ a b Cronulla Sharks players receive show-cause notices from ASADA, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 2013
  24. ^ The ASADA ban has ended Gold Coast Titan Luke Douglas’ record run of 215 consecutive NRL games, Gold Coast Bulletin, 22 August 2014
  25. ^ a b Cronulla Sharks players accept doping bans, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 2014
  26. ^ Statement from WADA, 30 September 2014
  27. ^ a b Roy Masters (8 March 2016). "NRL take action against former Cronulla Sharks players who declined ASADA deal". Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, NSW. Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  28. ^ a b Zemek, Steve (13 October 2016). "Sharks finalise ASADA deal". Yahoo!7. Archived from the original on 13 October 2016. Retrieved 13 October 2016. 
  29. ^ a b NRL fine Cronulla $1 million, ban coach Shane Flanagan for 12 months over supplements program, Yahoo!7 Sport, 17 December 2013
  30. ^ NRL dismisses Shane Flanagan and Cronulla appeals relating to Sharks supplements scandal, ABC Grandstand Sport (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 5 March 2014
  31. ^ Paul Gallen and all suspended Cronulla Sharks players banned by NRL from Dally M awards , The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 28 August 2014

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