There was an amusement ride on the hill at Remondis Stadium on Sunday called Free Fall. A miniature, kids-friendly version of what you might find genuine thrill seekers on, it essentially dropped its strapped-in passengers from a height of a few metres.

The ride wasn't only a distraction for youngsters not entranced by the wooden spoon playoff taking place in front of them. It was also as good a symbol as you would find for the Sharks' season. Cronulla were in freefall from well before this meeting of cellar dwellers, thanks to a long list of wounded players, the Todd Carney photo fiasco and the dark cloud of ASADA that has hung over the joint for 18 months.

While the sun was out on Sunday afternoon there is not yet, as NRL chief Dave Smith put it, blue sky for Cronulla. Their five players - Paul Gallen, Anthony Tupou, Wade Graham, Nathan Gardner and John Morris - who on Friday accepted backdated bans over the deeds of three years ago, were not at the ground. They weren't allowed.

Only Gallen and Tupou would have actually taken on the Raiders had they not agreed they were, as ASASA chief Ben McDevitt put it, "doped and duped". Without them Cronulla fielded their eighth and ninth debutants of the season, Sione Masima and Scott Sorensen. And while their proximity to Canberra for much of the match - they led 6-0 at half-time, before an Anthony Milford-inspired turnaround - gave the crowd of 13,496 a bit to shout about, you couldn't help but thinking many players would rather be in Cancun or Cabo, and not Caringbah, on Monday.

"I just feel like it's been a long year and there's still two games to go," said stand-in captain Jeff Robson. "The season has been dragging on for a long time - it feels like it's an eternity it's been going on for."

There was at least a mood of a new beginning for Cronulla as a thrown-together squad did their best on Sunday. In the absence of Gallen, Tupou, Graham, Gardner and Morris there were in fact only two men on the field who had been in the Sharks' first-grade set-up in 2011. One was centre Ricky Leutele, who didn't play that season until round 22 - well after the needles and creams were tossed out - and trainer Mark Noakes, who was sacked by the club and then reinstated last year.

Thoughts remained, though, with those missing, with sympathy expressed for teammates handed, as Vito Corleone put it, an offer they couldn't refuse. Gallen was feeling "as you'd expect", according to interim NRL coach James Shepherd. "(He's) obviously with his family, trying to get some piece of mind."

It is a position fellow squad members find hard to imagine being in. "I can't really. It's tough isn't it?" said veteran forward Chris Heighington. "You build up your status in the game and all that and then it sort of gets in jeopardy. It's tough seeing people down. You build a good relationship with them and you see them going through what they're going through the last 18 months to two years ... I don't know how I would have dealt with it."

Life won't get any easier for Cronulla in the next fortnight against the Cowboys and Wests Tigers. Injuries to Nu Brown (knee) and Tupou Sopoaga (hamstring) and the reporting of Jonathan Wright (dangerous throw) could leave them further depleted, pushing past 20 the number of players who started the season that are now unavailable.

Heighington, no doubt, speaks for the lot of them when he hopes 2015 will be a "drama free year". They're certainly due.