Provisional sanctions proposed by the NRL have the potential to cause widespread upheaval at the Cronulla Sharks but they shouldn't expect any sympathy from their opponents when they take to the field for Round 1 of the 2014 season.
The Sharks have been given until January 15 to submit a response to the breach notices issues by NRL CEO Dave Smith on Tuesday, with the club facing a fine and coach Shane Flanagan facing a season-long suspension. With that process still to take place and the ongoing investigation by ASADA, there is the prospect that the issue will continue to hang over Cronulla right up until they take the field for the opening game of the season.
Cronulla edged out the Gold Coast Titans by two points in an emotion-charged Round 1 fixture this year that came just days after Flanagan was stood down by the Cronulla board following the release of the report into the use of drugs in Australian sport by the Australian Crime Commission in February. They'll face the Titans in the opening round of the 2014 season as well.
Speaking to the media prior to the provisional findings being announced, Titans veteran Ashley Harrison said that he was eager to see an end to the saga and expects a hostile environment at Remondis Stadium for their Monday night season-opener.
"I hope so, any advantage we can get we'll take," Harrison said of the mental toll the investigation may be taking on Cronulla players. "In saying that, if they get all of this stuff out of the way I suppose they're going to be looking forward to moving forward as well and the Cronulla Sharks, down there, Round 1... it's going to be a tough game."
Gold Coast pair Luke Douglas and Albert Kelly were both contracted to the Sharks at the time of the alleged supplements program in 2011 but Harrison doesn't believe the latest findings will hamper their preparation for the upcoming season.
"They've been fine; I don't think they've got too much to do with it," Harrison said. "They're up here now and concentrating on what they need to do to get themselves right for Round 1.
"I think it will be good to finally get over that hurdle. It's been hanging over our game for a fair while now so to get the sanctions out of the way and put it behind us, everyone can look forward to next year."