Shaun Johnson's new club rocked by investigation into coach

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Wednesday, 12 December 2018, 1:21PM
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is reportedly under investigation by the NRL's integrity unit. Photo / Getty Images.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan is reportedly under investigation by the NRL's integrity unit. Photo / Getty Images.

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan played a central role in luring Shaun Johnson across to the Sydney NRL club, but new evidence relating to the Sharks mentor's 2014 peptide ban has put his job under threat.

Johnson could unexpectedly find himself playing under a new coach next season after the former Warriors halfback recently signed a three-year deal to join Flanagan's star-studded Sharks squad.

The Kiwi international's move to Cronulla comes while the club is being investigated by the NRL after Sharks management decided to report themselves over potential salary cap breaches dating back to 2015.

The NRL's integrity unit have examined mobile phone records, staff computers and the club's internet server, with details coming to light of a phony invoice scam and a suspect bank loan which the Daily Telegraph reports was used to pay at least one player.

Through the course of that investigation, the Daily Telegraph reports, the integrity unit have questioned Flanagan, after uncovering emails indicating he had been in contact with Cronulla officials during his 12-month suspension.

As part of his ban relating to the peptide scandal, the NRL declared he was not allowed to have any contact with players or club staff.

Flanagan served a one-year ban in 2014 over his involvement in the Sharks peptide scandal that rocked the NRL. Photo / Photosport.
Flanagan served a one-year ban in 2014 over his involvement in the Sharks peptide scandal that rocked the NRL. Photo / Photosport.

But according to the Daily Telegraph, an email and phone message trail reveal Flanagan had been communicating with senior staff during his suspension, putting plans in place for when he was allowed to return to the head coaching job in 2015.

Recruitment matters regarding players coming off contract, welfare and injury issues are reported to be among the topics discussed.

Despite the salary cap investigation, Johnson's move to Cronulla did not raise eyebrows, as the shock departure of Valentine Holmes to the NFL provided the Sharks' 2019 salary cap with a significant boost.

Last week, Johnson detailed how he had enjoyed open discussions with Flanagan relating to the club's current roster, which had encouraged him to accept the Sharks' offer, after he was granted a release from the Warriors a fortnight ago.

"You want to go somewhere and know what is going on with the squad, and Flanno [Shane Flanagan] was unreal in letting me know the exact status of every player," Johnson told the Daily Telegraph.

"Like, when they're signed until and what they might be thinking. And I was a part of that discussion the first day I came over and that was really big for me.

"I hadn't had a conversation like that at the Warriors for the last few years. I'd been left out of those conversations.

"So to come here and be brought in and told 'you're going to be in a key position for us, you need to know what is going on around you', I was like 'ahh — thank you'."

Johnson enjoyed open talks with Flanagan relating to Cronulla's current playing roster. Photo / Getty Images.
Johnson enjoyed open talks with Flanagan relating to Cronulla's current playing roster. Photo / Getty Images.

When asked about the latest dramas, Flanagan declined to comment to the Daily Telegraph but reportedly denied he had initiated any of the conversations under question.

It's understood Cronulla management are concerned the NRL may serve Flanagan with another suspension, issue the club with a heavy fine, or do both and hit the Sharks with a double whammy.

At the time of Flanagan's 2014 ban, the Sharks were fortunate to have $400,000 of their million dollar fine suspended by the NRL. The Daily Telegraph suggests the latest developments could potentially see the club forced to pay that amount.

Sharks management reportedly claim they are unaware of where the investigation into Flanagan stands.

However, the matter is understood to have forced the club to hold off on extending Flanagan's contract beyond next season.

The Daily Telegraph reports the NRL are expected to serve Flanagan with a penalty next week.

The investigation into Flanagan is being handled separate to the salary cap issues, which are not expected to be resolved until the new year.

Johnson has joined Cronulla after eight seasons at the Warriors. Photo / Photosport.
Johnson has joined Cronulla after eight seasons at the Warriors. Photo / Photosport.

It remains to be seen what impact this saga has on Johnson's fresh start after eight seasons at the Warriors.

Earlier this month, Flanagan raved about the club's newest signing and the value Johnson will add to the Sharks squad.

"To recruit a current test half at this time of year is a massive boost to our club, the playing group, our members and fans," said Flanagan.

"Shaun's football talent is going to be a huge plus for our team and his experience will undoubtedly help with the development of our younger players.

"Players like Jayden [Brailey], Kyle [Flanagan] and Blayke [Brailey] are some who can only benefit from having Shaun in our team.

"And added to all of that, he has outstanding character, has done some great work in the community in New Zealand and he will also be an asset to the club off the field as well."

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