In the wake of last week’s decision by the NRL to hand down $1 million fine to the Parramatta Eels and dock all 12 points they had accumulated for the year – among other punishments – for salary cap breaches dating back to 2013, there have been many pundits picking at the bones of the Parramatta board.
This piece is by no means a criticism of the sentence handed down, nor is it a defence of the Parramatta club. But the fact that such excessive breaches can occur not once, but twice since the Bulldogs were busted in 2002 is the issue that should have alarm bells ringing.
The fact Parramatta consciously decided to run such a scheme after what happened to the Storm is both brazen and stupid. The fact it took the NRL salary cap auditors over three years to find is concerning.
But perhaps this isn’t a black and white issue whereby clubs are breaking the rules. If we look back since the NRL began in 1998, we can see that there have been over 100 separate instances of the salary cap having been breached, big and small. So far the NRL has collected almost $8 million in fines since 1998.
The Bulldogs punishment was for breaches made from 2000-2002. In 2000, the NRL had handed the club a $50,000 fine for exceeding the cap. This raises the question: how did the auditors not see a problem then?
When Melbourne was busted in 2010 for breaches made since 2006 it shocked everyone. But Melbourne had received fines for breaching the cap in 2006 ($63,266), 2007 ($13,917) and 2009 ($15,000). Auditors had three opportunities there, yet still failed to find anything odd. It took a whistle-blower to reveal the scheme.
Now Parramatta has been done for breaches dating back to 2013. Not surprisingly, they had been found to have majorly breached the 2014 salary cap in an audit the following year, which saw the club fined $465,000, while there was strong talk they’d start the 2016 season with negative four competition points.
Parramatta was forced to make changes to the way the club was governed to appease the NRL. It’s laughable that the governance of the Parramatta club which the NRL was happy with is now being held responsible for the major breaches the club has made since 2013.
Every club has received fines for all forms of cap breaches since 1998, such as second-tier cap breaches, unregistered players and exceeding the top tier cap, among others.
There have been just five seasons since 1998 where a team hasn’t been intentionally cheating the cap in an intricate and excessive manner. Canterbury’s scheme was for 2000-2002, Melbourne’s for 2006-10 and Parramatta’s from 2013-16, each more intricate than the last.
It’s time to fix the salary cap, as it’s clearly riddled with loopholes. The auditing system and process needs a revamp, too. Teams will be less likely to cheat if they know the auditors can come at any time, more than once a year. Players get drug tested at no notice at all times of the day – there’s no reason why clubs shouldn’t be audited the same way.
**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**