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Rival clubs circle as Sharks brace for roster cut

Rival clubs circling the Sharks' roster will play a large part in dictating who gets released by the club as Cronulla scramble to move on at least one player and be salary cap compliant for round one.

The Sharks will play out each of the next two seasons with $353,000 less in their salary cap after the NRL confirmed orchestrated breaches by the club over the past five seasons.

As well as the $707,000 total cap penalty, Cronulla had $500,000 of their $1.25 million fine suspended thanks to CEO Barry Russell self-reporting the issues.

Club management have exactly two weeks to shift at least one player off their books, and potentially another squad member by June 30.

NRL rules require teams to have 29 players on their books by close of business Friday, which NRL.com understands Cronulla have done with the midweek signing of James Segeyaro, and another player added to complete their top 30 by the mid-year cut-off date.

A spokesman for the league said the NRL would not confirm whether Segeyaro's one-year bargain basement deal has been officially registered by head office.

Given the Sharks must replace any player moved on with another squad member on at least the $72,500 minimum wage, the club must technically shift at least $425,000 if they release one player.

To move on two of their lesser earners before round one would inflate that figure again beyond $500,000 given another replacement player would need to be added to Cronulla's books.

Such a scenario points to a mid-tier player such as Chad Townsend, off-season recruit Josh Morris, Matt Prior or Jayden Brailey being in the firing line if the Sharks are to come under their revised cap by shifting only one squad member.

Rival teams are likely to influence who Cronulla move given the limited two-week timeframe. Russell declined to comment when contacted by NRL.com.

While the Sharks are reluctant to release title-winning half Townsend, who is contracted for both 2019 and 2020, both the Warriors and Eels have cap space to accommodate him and are in need of a top-level playmaker.

The Dragons are another outfit that may enter the fray if their own application for salary cap relief from Jack de Belin's suspension is approved, with prop Ava Seumanafagai one off-contract Shark that has been mentioned in-house as a potential replacement option.

The injured front-rower is also weighing up an approach from an English Super League outfit.

However offloading a lower-tier player like Seumanafagai could mean a second player would also be forced out of the club to meet their reduced salary cap, in turn inflating that cost with another player then needing to be added to their final 30-man squad.

Likewise Segeyaro, whose new Sharks deal is the smallest of his career and was pushed through by the club after consultation with former NRL salary cap auditor Jamie L’Oste Brown.

Marquee recruit Shaun Johnson has been assured by the club that he won't be forced out while NRL chief operating officer Nick Weeks expects the Sharks to be cap compliant by their March 15 trip to Newcastle.

"They'll need to adjust their roster before the first round," Weeks said.

"They're going to have to move a player to do that. The game has never allowed clubs to play over the cap. So the salary cap auditor has powers available to him to change that roster for them.

"But we're confident the club will do that in advance of the auditor having to step in."

As well as the salary cap related sanctions, the Sharks also copped a $500,000 fine (reduced from $800,000 on appeal) for continuing to engage now deregistered coach Shane Flanagan during his 2014 suspension over the club's ASADA scandal.

The penalties carry significant weight for a club without a major sponsor having reported a $3 million loss in 2017 and expected similar returns last financial year.

Super League looms as Flanagan's main avenue for a return to top-level coaching, with NRL CEO Todd Greenberg unwilling to entertain any discussion around his future in 2019.

"I'm not sure that I'd even consider that at the moment," Greenberg said when asked how Flanagan would prove himself worthy of NRL registration.

"Shane needs to have some time away from the game and then we'll assess that down the track".