Cronulla Sharks coach Shane Flanagan during the height of the ASADA dramas last year. Photo: John VeageEven if Shane Flanagan is successful in clearing his name through the courts, the suspended Cronulla coach remains unlikely to be in charge of the Sharks this season.
With NRL chief executive Dave Smith upholding the 12-month ban he imposed on Flanagan over his role in the supplements program at Cronulla in 2011, the Sharks mentor must now convince the NRL Appeals Tribunal headed by former High Court judge Ian Callinan that Smith was wrong.
If he fails to do so, Flanagan’s next course of action would be to challenge the ruling in the NSW Supreme Court but by the time his case is decided the suspension could have already been served.
In announcing his decision on Wednesday, Smith confirmed Flanagan’s ban would be back-dated to December 17 when the suspension was first proposed.
He also made it clear Flanagan would be allowed to return to coaching after nine months if he completed an intensive education and training course focused on his responsibilities as head coach and demonstrated that he understood his duties and obligations under the NRL rules.
To do so, Flanagan would have to give up his fight with the NRL but he may not see much benefit in a reduced ban as the earlier return date of September 17 is only two weeks before the NRL grand final and if the Sharks are still be in contention they would be unlikely to dump Peter Sharp as coach.
Flanagan could apply for a court injunction to allow him to resume coaching while his case is being heard but Fairfax Media has been told he would have to explain why he had been prepared to start the ban on December 17.
According to legal sources, Flanagan would have been entitled to continue to coach Cronulla while Smith was considering the written submissions and supporting material challenging the preliminary findings.
However, his ban would not have begun until March 5 and if he was to then serve the full 12-month suspension Flanagan would not be able to have any direct or indirect involvement with the Sharks or any other team, until the eve of the 2015 season.
If Flanagan does go to court, he would have to convince a judge Smith’s findings were wrong or that the penalty was not in keeping with the NRL’s rules or that he was denied procedural fairness.
His case will have also been heard by a respected former High Court judge in Callinan and ex-NSW Sports Minister Mike Cleary and former Test hooker Luke Priddis, who also sit on the NRL Appeals Tribunal.
Flanagan understandably wants his reputation restored but legal action would almost certainly require him taking the stand in court and facing cross examination about his knowledge and involvement in the supplements program that has also resulted in Cronulla being fined $1 million and former Sharks head trainer Trent Elkin having his registration cancelled by the NRL.
Up to three members of Cronulla’s 2011 squad are considering legal action against the club and Smith found governance failings by Flanagan and Elkin, who joined Parramatta last season, had put the health and welfare of players at risk.
Smith ruled that Flanagan had failed to:ensure a safe and healthy work environment; properly supervise Elkin; ensure Elkin complied with his obligation to inform the club doctor about changes that had been made to the supplement program and to obtain his prior approval for those changes; take appropriate action when he became aware that unsafe practices had been employed in the administration of supplements to players; and, ensure Elkin complied with a protocol that had been agreed on April 7 2011 to the effect that the prior approval of the club doctor must be obtained before any supplements that were administered to players.
As head coach, it would appear difficult for Flanagan to argue that someone else was in charge and should have been held responsible.
Flanagan, Elkin and the Sharks have until next week to formally request a hearing before the NRL Appeals Tribunal and their cases are then expected to be heard before the end of the month.