Fox Sports commentator Ben Ikin has urged Cronulla officials to make a decision on the coaching structure for the 2014 season sooner rather than later, endorsing assistant coach Peter Sharp as the man to provide the most seamless transition should coach Shane Flanagan be suspended.
Flanagan is currently facing a possible 12-month suspension with the opportunity to have that reduced to nine months should he meet additional education and training criteria set out by the NRL.
Sharp acted as interim coach when Flanagan was stood down by the Cronulla board for the opening two rounds of the 2013 season, with veteran coach Tim Sheens and current Raiders assistant coach Brett Kimmorley also mooted as possible replacements should Flanagan be rubbed out.
As players prepare to break up for Christmas in just a few days' time, Ikin said it was crucial that they return to pre-season training in January with a clear understanding of who is in line to step in for Flanagan if needed.
"From what I can understand all the players are supporting Shane Flanagan, a bit like Essendon with James Hird, and the club will look to support him so you're probably looking for an interim solution which is already there in Peter Sharp," Ikin told NRL.com.
"If the players are fully expecting that [Flanagan] gets given the role at the end of the 12 months why not default to the option that seemed to work at the start of this year?
"It would send a message to the players of, 'We know you love 'Flanno', what we're going to do is give you a guy who has been at the club a long time, doesn't want the job full-time but is very capable, give him a bit of support and we'll bring Flanno back next year.' That means you keep all the players on-side but if you drag someone in, particularly someone who is ambitious and sees this as a long-term employment opportunity, then perhaps you ruffle feathers.
"The longer you let the players dwell on the wilderness the harder it will be for them to keep their minds on the job."
Cronulla have until January 15 to answer the breach notices issued by the NRL and Ikin questions whether Sharks players can not only get through another gruelling pre-season with such a dark cloud hanging over them, but perform at their best over a 26-week NRL season.
"It'd be deflating," the former Maroons star said of the provisional rulings. "This is the toughest part of the year; it's all hard work with no fun at the end of the week.
"All the players will be second-guessing themselves at the moment. It's all good and well to say, 'Let's dig deep again and muster up the intestinal fortitude that we had to last season, and do it again for another season,'... bloody hard.
"The feeling that we're experiencing as fans is exactly what the Cronulla players will suffer through this off-season and maybe even the next 12 months. When you're watching your footy and supporting your team you just want to be certain about a few things: that the squad you start the season with is every chance of being there at the end, they're going to be giving their all each and every week and for a Sharks fan you just can't be confident of that at the moment. And that's a horrible feeling."