You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
New Sharks CEO Barry Russell greets Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen.

Since Cronulla's historic grand final triumph in 2016, the club has lost millions of dollars, sponsors and their star player.

But it doesn't end there. The Sharks have lost a coach, board members, staff and now they've lost the CEO who tried to turn the club around.

Cronulla are at a crossroads after Barry Russell, the club's former Rothmans Medal-winning five-eighth and an experienced rugby league administrator, felt the need to walk away just 12 months after starting his dream job as Sharks chief executive.

Russell's departure has highlighted the problems at a club which lurches from crisis-to-crisis because it seems more focused on winning their next game than securing the future.

The Sharks have never had a head of football such as Phil Gould (Penrith), Shane Richardson (South Sydney) or Frank Ponnisi (Melbourne). They are men who can assert influence or authority over the coach.

There have been times when they haven't even had a chief executive.

Fifita happy to lead from the front

Yet after winning their first premiership in 2016, it was thought the pain of Cronulla's recent past – the ASADA investigation, the ongoing financial problems and a revolving door of CEOs and boards – was finally behind the club.

The appointment of Russell, who had previously worked for the Sharks, the NRL and Harvey Norman, was viewed as a sign Cronulla was moving in the right direction.

Russell was considered someone who could restore integrity to the Sharks brand.

That view seemed vindicated when Russell self-reported a suspected minor salary cap breach from 2015 that was uncovered early last year after he hired former NRL salary cap auditor Jamie L’Oste-Brown as part of a governance review.

Russell's departure has highlighted the problems at a club ... more focused on winning their next game than securing the future

However, what was found by NRL investigators proved costly, damaging and raised questions about the validity of the club's greatest moment.

NRL officials insisted the Sharks were under the salary cap in their premiership-winning season but had breached the rules by not disclosing a series of third-party agreements between 2013 and 2016.

In 2017, the breaches were on another level as a former Cronulla director allegedly paid money to a company set up to provide third-party deals for players as the club tried desperately to keep its title-winning team together.

The NRL investigation also discovered more than 800 emails between Sharks coach Shane Flanagan and club officials during the nine-month period he was suspended in 2014 over governance issues during the peptides scandal of 2011.

Flanagan, who had been in charge of Cronulla since 2010, is now gone and the NRL won't even discuss registering a contract with another club before next year – meaning he is unlikely to be able to coach in the Telstra Premiership again before 2021 at the earliest.

The Sharks have lost four board members who resigned ... while 10 staff lost their jobs late last year

The Sharks have also lost four board members who resigned in recent months, while 10 staff lost their jobs late last year after the club posted a $3 million loss for the 2018 season and star fullback Valentine Holmes quit to try his hand at American football.

Most expect him to sign with North Queensland from 2020 if he doesn't earn an NFL contract.

However, the biggest loss for the Sharks is that of Russell, who has now become the latest in a long list of CEOs that didn't last long in the job, including the likes of Bruno Cullen, Steve Noyce and Lyall Gorman.

In his own words, Russell leaves after cleaning up a mess following the NRL's decision last week to suspend $500,000 of the $750,000 fine for salary cap breaches and spread a $707,000 cap deduction over the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

His final act was to secure a major sponsor before the start of the season.

It remains to be seen whether Russell's efforts have made a lasting impact.

The Sharks faithful welcome their heroes back to Shark Park after the grand final.
The Sharks faithful welcome their heroes back to Shark Park after the grand final. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

Premier Partner

Media Partners

Major Partners

View All Partners