Top players expected to take a plea deal leaving the club short-staffed.
The Cronulla Sharks could call upon rookie NRL players to help them fill the void that will be left by several of their top stars who are expected to take ASADA’s early plea deal.
Captain Paul Gallen, Anthony Tupou, Nathan Gardner and assistant coach John Morris were all absent from Sharks training on Thursday, as the quartet inched closer towards deciding whether to accept a deal offered by ASADA or use the next nine days as time to respond to show cause notices received on Wednesday.
To make matters worse for the struggling club is their shocking injury toll which has further compounded their player drain as the regular season winds down.
If the affected players are to accept the deal on Friday morning, they would be suspended immediately from any involvement with the club, ruling them out from playing again this season, including this Sunday’s wooden-spoon decider against Canberra at Remondis Stadium.
With 13 players, including Wade Graham who is also part of the ASADA inquiry, sidelined through injury, suspension or retirement, interim Sharks coach James Shepherd was forced to pick up the phone to three rookies who in the club’s darkest hours could experience one of the highlights of their lives.
Unknown forwards Scott Sorensen, Patrice Siolo and Michael Morris needed to pinch themselves as they gathered at Shark Park alongside the club’s remaining stars Michael Gordon, Jeff Robson and Chris Heighington.
Sorensen, a local junior from Endeavour Sports High who plays in the back-row, is the nephew of both Dane and Kurt Sorensen — two of the most feared forwards to play the game.
Both Sorensen and Morris, who is also a local product, are still eligible for the under-20s competition, as is Siolo, who was promoted to play this week in the NSW Cup.
All three players are on a part-time contract, working eight-hour days before training each day with either the under-20s or NSW Cup squads.
Under the watchful eye of TV crews and photographers, Shepherd put the Sharks through their paces for almost 90 minutes on Thursday.
Sharks officials are hoping that the Shire locals will gather to provide an emotional rally of support for the club on Sunday.