Banned coach's role could test NRL

Salford owner Marwan Koukash's bold declaration that he wanted to sign Benji Marshall in the same week he announced Shane Flanagan was joining the club has raised the question of how the NRL would react if the suspended Cronulla coach recruited players for the Sharks while in England.

Although Marshall insists he is determined to stick it out in rugby union, and his manager Martin Tauber has not received an approach from Salford, it is not difficult to imagine Flanagan wanting to lure him to Cronulla next season if he did return to league.

Marshall and Todd Carney would be one of the most lethal halves pairings in the NRL, and the Sharks boast five of his former Wests Tigers team-mates as well as chief executive Steve Noyce, who was in charge of the joint venture club during the formative years of the 29-year old's career.

With Koukash claiming he was prepared to offer the Kiwi superstar $1 million a season, Marshall could earn good money at Salford this year and then join Cronulla on a lesser deal.

While such speculation will not become reality as Marshall has no interest in moving from Auckland to England's north, there are sure to be players in Super League who will catch Flanagan's eye, and it remains unclear what the NRL would do were he to sign any for the Sharks.

Under the terms of Flanagan's one-year ban from coaching in the NRL for his role in the supplements program at Cronulla in 2011, he is prohibited from having any direct or indirect contact with the club until at least September 17.

The finalisation of a new three-year contract with the Sharks leaves no doubt Flanagan has had some detailed discussion with Noyce and other officials but negotiations were well under way before the NRL imposed penalties against the coach and club for risking the welfare of players.

Flanagan's manager Wayne Beavis would also have been heavily involved in finalising the terms and details of the Cronulla deal, as he was in organising his three-month stint as a coaching consultant for Salford.

Allowing Flanagan to work in England when suspended players have been prohibited from doing so since the game closed a loophole to prevent Balmain prop Steve Roach from serving a four-match ban with Warrington so he could play in the 1989 grand final defies logic.

It can only be assumed former Sharks head trainer Trent Elkin, who joined Parramatta last year, would also be able to gain employment in Super League if he fails in his appeal against a two-year ban from working in the NRL.

By deciding not to block Flanagan's move, the NRL has avoided the possibility of a legal battle with his lawyer Stuart Littlemore while being seen as conciliatory towards the Sharks after hitting the club with a $600,000 fine and suspending their coach.

But what if they have given the Sharks an advantage over other NRL clubs, who do not have a coach in England for three months eyeing off talent he could bring to the club next season?

Cronulla, who have lost boom hooker Michael Lichaa to Canterbury, have 11 other members of their top 25-man squad off contract this season - including veteran rakes John Morris and Isaac De Gois.

St Helens hooker James Roby and Wigan's Michael McIlorum would be considered good signings for any NRL club, while Leeds centres Kallum Watkins and winger Ryan Hall are highly rated.

Warrington halfback Richie Myler is another English player expected to attract attention from NRL clubs after recently joining former Illawarra Steelers utility Andrew Purcell's Australian-based management company MAP Sports, while former Sydney Roosters centre Sia Soliola has announced he is quitting St Helens to return to the NRL next season.

This story Banned coach's role could test NRL first appeared on The Age.