Is this the end of the Sharks?

The crisis engulfing Cronulla has deepened after coach Shane Flanagan was stood down and four senior staff members were sacked in a dramatic day at the Sharks.

Cronulla are facing the prospect of collapsing altogether with some players considering taking legal action against the embattled club if they are rubbed out for inadvertently taking performance-enhancing supplements.

Football manager Darren Mooney, head trainer Mark Noakes, physiotherapist Konrad Schultz and club doctor David Givney have been sacked. Former Northern Eagles coach Peter Sharp will guide the team into Sunday's home stoush with the Gold Coast.

In a further twist, the board could also be totally overhauled. There will be elections for directorships in April, with nominations for candidates closing next week. Former Brisbane CEO Bruno Cullen was parachuted into the role of interim chief executive to sort out the mess.

While the focus is on Cronulla, there is speculation that players from other NRL clubs named in the Australian Crime Commission's report could also face sanctions in the days ahead. Fairfax Media has learnt several players are in the process of engaging legal representation and are exploring the prospect of suing the club over its duty of care in administering supplements safely if ASADA bans them for two years. If the players successfully sue the club, it could bankrupt Cronulla.

The club had been pushing for players to accept six-month bans and had offered inducements - including contract extension and representative bonuses - to do so.

Despite the approval of a $300 million land redevelopment application, the club is one of the most cash-strapped in the NRL. It has been operating without a CEO for three years, while chairman Damian Irvine has been overseas during the week as the drama has unfolded.

Deborah Healey of the University of NSW, a solicitor and author of Sport and the Law, said it was possible for the players to sue the club in certain circumstances. ''Depending upon the particular contractual terms and the actual circumstances once known, it may be possible for the players to sue for breach by the club of some express or implied term of the employment contract,'' Healey said.

''There may also be some breach of fiduciary obligation of the employer arising the contract, or some negligent representation involved. The players would sue to recover their loss. The reported offer to pay contract monies and extend contracts would reduce the loss suffered by the players.''

Flanagan was stood down and the other staff members were sacked after being summoned to a meeting with board member Peter Kerr and a solicitor on Friday afternoon. Givney had been with the club since 1987. Deputy chairman Keith Ward said the club would conduct a full review after management ''failings''.

''It's about getting our house in order, about what we believe in as a club, what we want to be as a club and the standards we expect of everyone in the club,'' he said. ''I can assure you the speculation of recent days has been particularly difficult for everyone involved at the Cronulla Sharks but it's very important we took the time to get these decisions right because the future of the club and the integrity of our club demands it.''

The Sharks were expected to be one of the contenders for this year's title after recruiting stars including Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan.

The NRL has stepped in to provide funding support to the club. It is unclear what will happen to players surviving the 2011 campaign who remain at the club. ''Experience shows that an athlete who is found to have ingested some substance on the Prohibited List is always going to say 'someone made me do it' or 'someone I trusted advised me to take it','' Healey said.

Twitter: @proshenks

The story Is this the end of the Sharks? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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