Cronulla might have to release only one mid-range player before round one to be salary-cap compliant for 2019, despite the National Rugby League discovering an orchestrated plan two seasons ago to flaunt the game's rules.
The NRL has ruled the Sharks guilty of cap breaches dating back to 2013, and stripped the club of $353,500 from both this year and next year's caps as well as fining them $250,000.
Cronulla also had another $500,000 fine suspended, but the Sharks received a softer landing after new chief executive Barry Russell had self-reported indiscretions he'd found last year.
Included in the NRL's findings was that a separate company had been established and funded by a then-Cronulla board member in 2017, procured illegal third-party agreements and put them about $250,000 over the cap.
Illegal promises, worth more than $700,000, were made to players in the form of third-party deals, but not all were met.
It forced the NRL to defend the leniency of the punishment which was accepted on by the club.
"We expect clubs, when they identify conduct within their club, to come forward and report to the NRL," integrity chief Nick Weeks said.
"We want them to self-report. Barry Russell did that ... had that not occurred, the sanction would have been much larger."
here is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Sharks players and any officials proved to have been involved are no longer in the NRL.
The NRL found there were breaches in Cronulla's premiership-winning year of 2016.
But, as the Sharks were under the salary cap in payments disclosed to the NRL, those promises did not take them above the league's limit and the title is unaffected.
However, Cronulla will need to shift one player on by round one to fit under this year's adjusted figure, with prop Ava Seumanufagai already linked to a move to England.
That would also clear way for Shaun Johnson to stay.
The Sharks signed Johnson on a three-year deal worth a reported $3 million in December and it had been suggested if Cronulla needed to offload players to be cap compliant, Johnson could be placed on the open market or be forced to sit out until the club had balanced its books.