It's been a dramatic 24 hours in rugby league as Cronulla deal with the fallout from ASADA's findings into the use of performance enhancing drugs.Adam Lucius takes a look at how it all unfolded, the reaction and the likely road ahead.
The story so far:
Up to 14 Cronulla players are under suspicion of using performance enhancing drugs in 2011. They have been offered reduced six-month suspensions if they come clean but risk a two-year ban if they fight the allegations and cannot prove their innocence.
Who are the players allegedly involved?
Legally we cannot name names at this stage but the players under suspicion are those who were at the club in 2011 and are still there. We counted 12 but there may be a couple more. The players involved are meeting club officials on Thursday afternoon to discuss their next move.
What's their reaction been?
According to insiders they are shocked and dismayed at the allegations and don't believe they have done anything wrong. They may have been given incorrect information about what is banned and what is not - or not informed at all - but they deny knowingly taking performance enhancing drugs. It's unlikely any player will come forward and accept a six-month suspension.
Will Sunday's game go ahead?
Yes, the game will definitely be played. Even if players are stood down the Sharks will be expected to field a team against Gold Coast. The 20-man squad they have named contains at least 13 players who were not at the club in 2011, presumably putting them in the clear.
Will the Sharks see out the season?
Most definitely. The rich broadcasting deal demands eight games per round for the rights holders so the ARLC would be in breach if they failed to deliver. One way or the other Cronulla will see out the season.
Will other clubs be dragged into this?
Yes, but not to the extent of what's happening at Cronulla. Players who were at the Sharks in 2011 but have moved on may get a knock on the door. There have been a few other names bandied around but nothing concrete. There are more questions than answers at this stage.
How are the Sharks holding up?
Coach Shane Flanagan went ahead with a midday weights session on Thursday before senior players met with legal representatives at Sharks Stadium. After an an afternoon video session the team had an opposed workout against the under-20s. Skipper Paul Gallen was a notable absentee. Flanagan is trying to direct attention back to Sunday's game but that will be nigh on impossible with media swarming on Shark Park in huge numbers. No-one at Cronulla is talking at the moment but there could be an announcement on Friday night when chairman Damian Irvine returns from the US.
What about their fans?
They can't believe this has happened days out from what was promising to be a stellar year for the club. A strong off-season recruitment drive attracted some quality players and there was genuine hope the Sharks would be among the competition heavyweights. That expectation has been replaced by outright depression at the prospect of the club being ripped in half by this scandal.
What's the NRL's response been?
They are sitting on their hands at Moore Park until more information is forthcoming. They are in constant contact with the Sharks but are awaiting the club's next move before stepping in. It goes without saying this is the worst possible news on the eve of the competition kick-off.