Star recruit Shaun Johnson could miss Cronulla's season opening clash and may even be forced to find another club depending on the outcome of the NRL's investigation into the Sharks salary cap woes.
A report today in The Australian newspaper suggests the NRL's investigation could still be a fortnight from completion, which may leave the Sharks with just two weeks to get under the salary cap and at risk of losing Johnson for their first competition match against Newcastle on March 15.
The Australian reports that mounting speculation in recent days has the Sharks facing significant penalties that could even force them to cull players to enable the club to become cap compliant.
Johnson was the last player signed by Cronulla after he penned a three-year deal in December following his controversial departure from the Warriors, who granted him a release from the final year of his million-dollar per season contract.
As a result, the Kiwi test playmaker would be the first member of the Sharks roster to be ruled ineligible to play unless Cronulla can tidy their financial affairs before the start of the season.
Furthermore, if the Sharks fail to achieve cap compliance, The Australian reports Johnson could even be forced back on to the open market where he would find few options as the majority of rival clubs have little money left to spend.
Parramatta and Wests Tigers are reportedly two clubs that could be in a position to make Johnson a decent offer should he be forced to leave the Sharks.
The Warriors are another club with money to throw around after they opted not to replace Johnson, and in stark contrast to the Sharks predicament, the Auckland-based outfit remain well poised to strengthen their playing stocks if the right player becomes available.
But the Warriors have so far resisted the temptation to try and lure another experienced playmaker and are set to gamble on partnering one of the club's untested young halves alongside veteran five-eighth Blake Green.
Coach Stephen Kearney will test the credentials of former Penrith reserve grader Adam Keighran and Warriors juniors Chanel Harris-Tevita and Hayze Perham during the upcoming trial games against Melbourne and Wests Tigers, ahead of their first NRL match against the Bulldogs on March 16.
But the Sharks continue their nervous wait for the NRL to wrap up their investigation after the game's governing body reportedly finished interviewing Sharks players and officials this week, as speculation grows that their cap breaches could be more serious than first thought.
The investigation has already claimed the career of banned premiership winning head coach Shane Flanagan, with the Sharks appointing his assistant John Morris as his replacement.
It remains to be seen whether Johnson is another casualty and what impact any further sanctions have on their 2019 premiership tilt.