RugbyL: Cronulla Sharks on brink over doping probe - reports

Crisis-hit National Rugby League club Cronulla Sharks was battling for survival in the wake of an investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, reports said Saturday.

Up to 14 present and past players have been implicated in the ASADA swoop yet the Sharks management's first steps Friday were to stand down head coach Shane Flanagan and sack four other football staffers on the most dramatic day in the club's 46-year history.

Sharks deputy chairman Keith Ward told a news conference Friday the decision to axe four members of staff and stand down Flanagan was due to "management issues" and not doping violations.

ASADA's swoop on the Sharks comes after six NRL clubs were last month identified in a nationwide sports doping scandal revealed in a sweeping Australian Crime Commission (ACC) investigation.

Cronulla have moved to shore up their shaky position by installing former Brisbane Broncos chief executive Bruno Cullen as interim CEO amid reports of a worsening financial situation at the club.

"The Sharks have lost sponsors and income as a result of the ACC and ASADA investigations," The Australian newspaper said.

"Cullen will be given the job of turning that around. It won't be easy, although the NRL (head body) has made resources available and will do everything it can to ensure the Sharks survive this season.

"Whether they go beyond that is another issue. Cronulla has teetered on the brink of oblivion for years. This saga may be just push it over the edge."

Sydney's Daily Telegraph also said there were growing doubts over Cronulla's survival chances beyond this season.

"Serious questions now hang over the club's survival, given it still carries a Aus$3.5 million ($3.6 million) debt and has little chance of securing further corporate support until the scandal abates," it said.

Ward said the ASADA inquiry was devastating to the Cronulla club.

"Before this we were having our best year that we've ever had," Ward told the Telegraph.

"To have this happen is devastating. I'm devastated."

Ward said the club would also be liable for payouts to sacked staff, while Flanagan will continue to be remunerated while he is stood down.

The Telegraph said that the NRL, unable to afford the collapse of a club following a new television broadcasting deal that guarantees eight games a week, has provided crucial financial support to the embattled Sharks.

"It's highly unlikely the Sharks would still be afloat but for their lifeline," the newspaper said.