Within weeks of the NRL handing a 12-month suspension to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan and telling him not to have any contact with the club, the 53-year-old was sending emails to Sharks officials.
It was December 2013 that the NRL suspended Flanagan, fined the club $1 million and deregistered head conditioner Trent Elkin over the 2011 supplements scandal.
But by January 2014, or a month into his suspension, Flanagan started contacting people within the Sharks over training arrangements, coaching department structures, negotiations with player agents, discussing player retention and recruitment, and even approving a few press releases along the way.
One specific exchange was trying to get Raiders half Blake Austin to the Sharks.
The NRL's forensic look at emails sent by Flanagan from January to September 2014 – when he was allowed back with a three-month discount for completing all the approved governance and team management courses – showed he was consistently and constantly breaking the rules of his ban.
All up, the NRL collected five pages of email communications and descriptions.
In April 2014 the Sharks even contacted the NRL to see if Flanagan's suspension could be relaxed.
Sharks to fight breach notice
If there had been only a handful of indiscretions, then maybe a smaller fine and suspension would have landed on Flanagan's shoulders.
But the NRL feels the length and depth of the breaches have struck at the integrity core of the game.
Consequently, on Wednesday the NRL not only reinstated the $400,000 fine it suspended from the $1 million back in 2013, it added a further $400,000 and moved to cancel Flanagan's registration.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg was asked if Flanagan had been coaching "by stealth".
"I wouldn't describe it as that. I would simply say there was a very specific directive given to Shane and the club," he said.
"They knew and were crystal clear on what the requirement was and they decided to not do that. We have to act when we’re provided with that information."
He was also reluctant to predict if Flanagan could make a return to NRL coaching at some time in the future.
"Look that's a speculative question that I can't answer today until I see his response, with all the information in front of us," he said.
Flanagan has until the end of January to submit his appeal to the sanction. The other Sharks officials involved are no longer at Cronulla and are not currently employed by any other club, which is why they escaped investigation.
NRL chief operating officer Nick Weeks was asked how his Integrity Unit team found the 2014 email trail, when they were ostensibly investigating some alleged salary cap breaches by the Sharks in 2015 and 2017 – self-reported by current Sharks CEO Barry Russell.
NRL comes down hard on Flanagan
Weeks said there had been no tip-off from within Cronulla to search back and find them.
"We'd been assessing a range of material from the club, looking at some salary cap matters that involves lots of internal communications with the club, interviews with other people," Weeks said.
"We identified this contact between Shane and the club during this period that he was excluded."
Greenberg said "a number of other people" had been interviewed regarding Flanagan's emails, but he declined to provide names.
He did invite Flanagan to come to the NRL on Wednesday morning to talk over the breach notice before it was made public, but the coach declined.
Russell and current Sharks chairman Dino Mezzatesta did meet with Greenberg to be given an overview of the reasons for the penalties. He then, in turn, telephoned Flanagan to inform him. Russell was not at the club in 2014.
It's extremely disappointing that clubs are looking to gain an unfair advantage by deliberately flouting the rulesTodd Greenberg
"I won't share with you the conversation, that should remain private, but it was a short conversation," Greenberg said.
Flanagan was re-signed by Cronulla in March 2014, or three months into his suspension. Greenberg said the NRL had given the club permission to have those conversations about his contract.
Flanagan, with 185 games since taking over from Ricky Stuart in 2010, was extended again in 2016 until the end of 2019.
If he had completed next year he would have surpassed John Lang (206 games) as Cronulla's longest-serving coach.
But Flanagan still did something the other 17 coaches did not – win the Sharks their maiden premiership (2016).
Still, accolades were far from Greenberg's mind on Wednesday.
"I can't tell you how frustrating it is to be here again proposing penalties for breaches of the game's rules," he said, referring to the sanctions on Parramatta in 2016 and then on Manly in 2017.
"Across these two matters, we removed the registrations of seven club officials. So it's extremely disappointing that clubs are looking to gain an unfair advantage by deliberately flouting the rules."
After Flanagan, Greenberg also announced the impending deregistration of Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe for the separate matter of Robbie Farah's remuneration details.
"I want to issue this warning. It is clear that the penalties imposed by the NRL are not deterring some clubs from trying to cheat the salary cap or breach the rules to gain an unfair advantage.
"The [ARL] Commission has therefore asked me to review the penalties for salary cap offences. That means looking at increased fines, increased suspensions, and stripping clubs of competition points.
"We will do, and we will take, whatever steps are needed to protect the integrity of our competition."
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Todd Greenberg had invited Shane Flanagan to meet with him on Friday.