Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has denied Cronulla cheated the salary cap and told critics to lay off their historic 2016 premiership.
As revealed by Fairfax Media, the NRL is probing a promised payment to ex-Shark Chris Heighington from 2015 worth as little as $50,000.
Flanagan fronted the media for the first time on Friday since news of the NRL's probe into a third-party irregularity broke on Tuesday night, claiming he had little knowledge of the exact details of Heighington's deal.
Sharks Football CEO Barry Russell uncovered the discrepancy during a governance review shortly after starting as Cronulla boss in February. The Sharks then self-reported the anomaly to the NRL three months ago.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg has already said the Sharks’ alleged discrepancy was nowhere near the breaches racked up by Parramatta and Manly in recent years.
"There is no cheating of the cap," Flanagan said.
“Don’t even use the word. There has been a discrepancy. The club has done the right thing. Now people want to say we’ve cheated? It’s a minimal dollar amount [being investigated from 2015].
“They earned [the 2016 premiership] on their own merits. What we’re talking about is approved by the club and approved by the NRL in 2015. It had nothing to do with 2016. It was one player and people are always going to draw their attention [to 2016], but it’s got nothing to do with that.”
The timing of the investigation being aired in public has unsettled the Sharks' bid for a second premiership in three years but Flanagan was at pains to point out the amount was "minimal".
The 2016 premiership-winning coach, who also laughed off suggestions of a rift with Russell, indicated he would be available to speak to the NRL about the issue. But the NRL is not expected to meet with Flanagan, former chief executive and current Manly boss Lyall Gorman and ex-chairman Damian Keogh until after the finals series.
"I have nothing to hide. In fact, I have worked closely with the NRL for many years,” Flanagan said.
"I don’t know the timeline [of interviews with the NRL], to tell you the truth. Today, tomorrow … it’s pretty clear my role within the club and I’ve just got to coach here. If it gets sorted out before the finals series or after the finals series … that’s out of my control.
"As for third-party agreements, there has been one clear message in this club for a long period of time, from top to bottom. That is, all third parties must be registered with the NRL. And to my knowledge, at my whole time at the club, that is the case."