The 2019 season is now only a couple of weeks away, our trial matches begin this weekend and we can look forward to a big year at the Sharks, so I thought I would take this opportunity to provide an update on a number of matters affecting your club.
Regarding our first trial on Saturday, due to concerns as to the condition of the Brookvale Oval playing surface, we have made a decision to move the game against Manly to Shark Park. Entry will be a gold coin donation, the proceeds going to charity, while all children will be admitted free, so please come down, get your first glimpse of the 2019 playing squad and support the team.
It has been communicated that there have been a number of staff changes within our Football Club over the past couple of months and further to that, I wish to inform that I have recently been appointed by the Board as Interim Group CEO of the Sharks due to the departure of Leagues Club CEO Tim McAleer.
In relation to the NRL squad, I’ve been an interested onlooker at a number of training sessions throughout the summer and I can report that John Morris is doing an outstanding job. He is making a big impression on everyone at the Club as our new Head Coach.
The playing group, with the senior players leading by example, haven’t missed a beat in their preparations for 2019. Everyone has jumped straight in behind John, giving him their full support and when you combine his work ethic, an intimate knowledge of rugby league built up over a 300-game NRL career, as well as the coaching experience gained with our Academy programs, under 20’s and as an Assistant NRL Coach, I have no doubt he will be a resounding success.
We’ve had the majority of our players return and it’s exciting to be able to complement the squad from last year with two internationals of the calibre of Shaun Johnson and Josh Morris. Both have been super impressive on the training paddock and add class, experience and x-factor to our team in 2019.
The addition of Shaun and Josh, coupled with some of the exceptional youngsters we have in our ranks, such as Bronson Xerri, Blayke Brailey, Kyle Flanagan and Briton Nikora, players who will challenge for first grade spots this year and I firmly believe we have a group of players who can give the competition a real shake.
Away from the field I won’t shy away from the fact that we have been forced to deal with some issues, however we are working tirelessly to get through them and reach the best possible outcome for the Club.
On January 25 I submitted our appeal and response to the NRL Breach Notice received on the 19th December relating to governance and our head coach suspension back in 2014. The NRL issued the Club with a fine of $800,000. We have appealed the severity of the fine and are optimistic about having the amount reduced based on a number of points put forward in an appeal.
In relation to our ongoing Salary Cap investigation, the NRL has indicated the investigation will be completed and a determination announced at the end of February. The salary cap matter has been a long and drawn out process, which is just as frustrating to me as I’m sure it is to you our Members and Corporate Partners, but it is imperative that we clean up this mess and the integrity and governance of our great Club is upheld.
It also disappoints me to have to mention an incident at the Cronulla Sailing Club involving six of our players prior to the Christmas break.
Following investigations internally and by local police, a Club Disciplinary Committee handed out penalties ranging from 25 percent to 10 percent fines of playing contracts, with all to undergo alcohol education courses and perform community service hours.
The players were remorseful but were informed in no uncertain terms that these would be first and last warnings for behavioural issues of this nature and that further breaches would result in contract terminations.
Unfortunately, the ongoing player behaviour issues, the negative publicity surrounding our Head Coach being deregistered and the ongoing Salary Cap investigation, coupled with a range of other unsavoury incidents reflecting badly across the game, has made it extremely difficult to secure any major sponsorship support.
We have appointed a new General Manager of Commercial in Chris Highett, a man with vast experience in the commercial area having worked in soccer, at St George Illawarra and the Gold Coast Titans and I am confident once the resilience and the value of our brand is recognised, we regain corporate trust in our brand and things will start to head in a positive direction.
At the moment we have front and back of jersey and other major sponsor properties available so please never be shy, contact Chris or myself if you have any interest in becoming involved or if you can provide any leads for our commercial team to pursue.
While we could dwell on the negatives, I would prefer to highlight some of the positives and we have plenty of good things currently happening and in the pipeline for the year ahead.
Sharks Have Heart continue to do great things in the community. We will visit 45 schools and engage with over 11,000 students at our annual Community Carnival later this month, and we have recently announced a partnership with Sutherland Shire Family Services and their Love Bites program, an initiative promoting respectful relationships amongst high school students. Wade Graham is a program ambassador.
Our junior clinics continue to prove extremely popular, the Skills Development Program is about to begin, while we will continue our support of two wonderful initiatives in the Skillz 4 Me and Make Bullying History programs.
On the membership front, I’m thrilled to be able to announce we have reached a record for this time of the year with 14,000 Members signed on for the upcoming season.
Thanks again for your ongoing support of our great Club and I look forward to seeing you at Shark Park, at Sharks Leagues Club and in and around the Sutherland Shire during 2019.