“The preliminary findings suggest the operation of a deliberate, coordinated and sustained system of salary cap cheating by the club” – NRL CEO Todd Greenberg. And with that, the social media frenzy ignited into a state of delirium. Forget the Federal Budget, forget Leicester City’s history making EPL achievement, there’s more important matters at stake. The Parramatta Eels club just got sanctioned for, among many other things, being dumb. Who documents salary cap rorts in minutes of the board meetings? It’s one thing cheating but it’s a whole new ball game when your board of directors, the very people that thousands of members, fans and sponsors place complete faith to manage your club with due care and corporate governance, actually document their wrong doing! What are we dealing with here? Incompetence or just plain stupidity?
The board at Parramatta have been subjected to ridicule for decades. A club with so much potential. An incredible rugby league junior base, a fan base in the tens of thousands, a buoyant economic region, a thriving leagues club and…. no premiership since 1986. Is it any wonder why? The great Jack Gibson often stated that the key to winning a premiership is to get everything in the front office right first, then worry about your football team. All the more pity, given Parramatta’s current roster and their great start to the season (albeit they are 570k over the cap).
Is it fair that the fans, players and sponsors suffer as a result of the misguided actions of board members? Absolutely. Everyone is part of the one club. More to the point, the game of rugby league has suffered, not just the Eels stakeholders. The NRL had no choice but to penalise the club as a whole. Just like it did to the Bulldogs in 2002 and Storm in 2010. The only residual issue is the timing of the penalty. I understand that every circumstance is different but would the Bulldogs have only been docked 12 points in 2002 if the rort was discovered earlier in the season? Parramatta still have a mathematical chance of making this year’s semi-finals. I imagine it would just leave a sour taste in most people’s mouths if the Eels were to perform the unlikely and make this year’s top 8.
The biggest issue, to me, is the fact that salary cap cheating only ever get discovered when a “whistle-blower” or disgruntled ex-employee report suspicious transactions. The NRL has never proactively uncovered any salary cap cheating. Is the salary cap system, in its current form, working? Does the NRL have the resources and intellectual capacity to identify salary cap cheating? Obviously, no amount of auditing has been able to detect such frivolous activity. Moreover, we constantly hear that most clubs cheat the system. You only have to look at the playing roster of some of the current NRL clubs to beg the question. Another bug-bear of mine is the dreaded player managers. The NRL leeches, as described by many. Why are they not made more accountable? After all, they’re the conduits of any “paper bag” transactions. I can’t help but wonder what the Australian Taxation Office are thinking about all this.
I believe the salary cap is effective at providing a level playing field and more even competition providing it is administered correctly. At the moment, it is nearly impossible to police it. Is there an alternate solution? I would like the NRL to consider either (a) eliminating player managers and replacing them with NRL / RLPA sanctioned and administered player representatives or (b) develop “notional salary cap” system – this is where every registered player is assigned a notional value (in much the same way that most Super Coach competitions do it) and the club is free to recruit and pay the players whatever they negotiate providing the sum of all notional values does not exceed the salary cap. This would mean clubs can make whatever payment arrangement (with the player) they want without the fear of sanction. The club just has to ensure that the total notional value of all players on their roster does not exceed the NRL’s total salary cap value. This would serve the purpose of eliminating the unavoidable dodgy deals as clubs can pay players whatever and however they want. If the clubs are irresponsible and overspend their budget, that’s their problem. The competition would still be even as a notional cap would still apply. Just food for thought…
Back to Parramatta. I often say – out of tragedy comes triumph. This may just be the blessing in disguise the Eels fans have been yearning. A short term pain for a long term gain. As for the dopes in the board room, the famous former wrestler, Jesse Venturer once said “you can’t legislate against stupidity”. It’s just well. These guys would’ve got life.