THE Cronulla Sharks could be forced to relocate 1450km to central or southern Queensland in 2015 in the wake of the clubs administrative failures when the ASADA investigation is complete.
The Daily Telegraph has learned NRL powerbrokers have held talks about the possibility of the Sharks being moved to Rockhampton or southern Queensland, with the club's financial position expected to become stretched to the extreme if the NRL hits Cronulla with a million-dollar fine for bringing the game into disrepute over the ongoing supplements crisis.
Under NRL rules, the game’s governing body has the power to rescind any club’s licence if they deem it has become financially insolvent or in "extreme circumstances", such as the black eye the Sharks have caused rugby league due to the club’s controversial supplements program from 2011.
With the ASADA report into the clubs practices due to be handed down after the October 6 grand final, Cronulla are still awaiting what punishments the club will face for implementing a systematic regime of banned peptides for an 11-week window under the guidance of sports scientist Stephen Dank.
The final rulings on the supplements scandal are expected to drag on well into next season, meaning the most likely time-frame on a Sharks relocation would be at the end of 2014.
NRL CEO Dave Smith denied plans to move any team in the immediate future but conceded "the footprint of the entire competition" would be "reviewed" for the following year.
"We don't have plans to move any team," Smith said.
"We are working to assist some clubs in building sustainable ways forward and that is a joint exercise that relies on the clubs being financially viable and continuing to meet corporate governance responsibilities.
"There’s no doubt that as we get to the planned review of expansion at the end of 2014 that the whole competition footprint will be looked at but that is still a while away."
With nine NRL clubs in existence in Sydney and only three in Queensland, NRL powerbrokers believe the possible relocation of the Sharks is a commercial reality rugby league can no longer ignore.
Cronulla fans will understandably be fuming about details of the potential move being leaked, but The Daily Telegraph has confirmed Smith and some of the other NRL commissioners have canvassed the issue.
Significantly, the new NRL commissioner set to replace Gary Pemberton, Graeme Samuel, was one of the pioneers on the AFL commission who campaigned to reduce the number of AFL clubs in Victoria.
During Samuel’s tenure on the AFL commission, he oversaw the relocation of the Fitzroy Lions to Brisbane and came under heavy fire for putting relocation and merger discussions on the radar for clubs including Footscray, Melbourne and Hawthorn.
The Sharks earned the ire of NRL headquarters two months ago when the club’s new board made the decision to reinstate sacked trainer Mark Noakes prior to the ASADA investigation being finalised.
As a result, interim CEO Bruno Cullen immediately quit his post in protest over the way the club had thumbed their noses at the game's governing body.
The Daily Telegraph has also been told the NRL is preparing to hit coach Shane Flanagan and his support staff during the period in question with severe sanctions, irrespective of whether they claim they knew nothing about what was going on during Dank’s tenure in the Shire.
Crucial to the high-powered NRL discussions is the management failures at Cronulla, where the Sharks hand-to-mouth existence meant it was forced to operate for three years without a chief executive.
In the AFL, the Essendon Bombers were hit with a fine of $2 million and stripped the club of its first two draft picks next season.
If the NRL was to issue Cronulla with the equivalent fine of $2 million, it could effectively send the club into financial oblivion.