Cronulla NRL coach Shane Flanagan started sowing the first seeds of the Sharks’ new culture, as he returned to work and his players shut the door on the doping drama that engulfed the club last year.
Flanagan took charge of the club’s first pre-season training session on Monday, after the NRL last Friday ended his ban.
He was stood down for a year from last December by the NRL, during their anti-doping investigation, but was eligible to come back early after he met criteria related to completing education and training courses.
Among those absent from Monday’s session were captain Paul Gallen, Anthony Tupou, Wade Graham and Nathan Gardner, who are under doping bans until November 21.
Flanagan, who was defiant in rejecting any blame during the investigation, talked in a Sharks statement last Friday about leading a cultural change at the club.
Veteran forward Chris Heighington said Flanagan had touched on that on his first day back.
“A little bit, he did touch on it. I’m sure he’ll touch on it more over there next few weeks,” Heighington told AAP.
“He was pretty enthusiastic at training today, it was good to see him.
“He’s really ready to go.”
For their part, the players stressed now the investigation was over it could no longer be used as an excuse for poor on-field form, after the Sharks finished six points adrift at the bottom of the 2014 ladder.
They won just five games, after making the semi-finals in 2013 and a qualifying final the year before.
“It was hard last year with everything going on … that’s gone now,” Heighington said.
“That’s not an excuse any more, we’ve talked about that.
“Hopefully it’s all better for the Sharks next year. Everyone was really confident today and hopefully can build into Christmas.
“We talked about there’s only one way – up.
“Every area, we’ve probably got to improve on, so it’s going to be a long, hard pre-season.
“I’m pretty confident if we can keep everyone on the field and bring a few new recruits in, that we can do a real good job.”
Among the new recruits showing their faces at Sharks training for the first time on Monday were former Bulldogs stars Michael Ennis and Mitchell Brown.
“It’s a pretty special day coming down here and meeting all the players and obviously having Shane back on board,” hooker and former Bulldogs captain Ennis told Sharks TV.
“All the guys have been really welcoming and there’s a lot of new staff on board so the club is heading in a really good direction and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Ennis and back Brown won’t be required to start training until November 24, because their 2014 season with the Bulldogs lasted a few weeks longer than the Sharks campaign.