Whenever rugby union and Australian Rules are in
the headlines for all the wrong reasons, you can pick out a club or player in
the NRL to share the unfavourable limelight with them.

The other codes have had their handful with the
Wallabies/NSW Waratahs Wendell Sailor behaving badly (again) and the West Coast
Eagles’ Ben Cousins in trouble (again). Now the NRL has its own nightmare, and a share of
the bad headlines, thanks to an apparent, massive salary cap rort by the New
Zealand Warriors.

One of the apparent breaches involves the
funnelling of undeclared payments to players through the club owner Cullen
Investments. Another involves paying for player agents to fly to
and from New Zealand whenever they wanted. Perhaps a few players might be asking their
agents whether they have “double-dipped” when it comes to travel expenses.

When the Warriors changed management – but not ownership
– late last year, the NRL Salary Cap Auditor, Ian Schubert, began an audit of
the Club’s recent payments to players. Just as he did when he looked into the finances of
the Bulldogs in 2002, Schubert has apparently found serious deficiencies, and
has found them with the full co-operation of the Warriors’ new management team.

The Bulldogs were fined half a million dollars and
lost 37, yes 37, competition points taking them from the top of the table to
the bottom in one day. If the breach by the Warriors is in the six figure
level, then you can except the Warriors will get a similar penalty. But how do
you deduct points from a team BEFORE the season starts?

What is more likely is that, if the deficiencies
are confirmed, the Warriors will start the 2006 season with perhaps “minus six”
competition points – meaning the club won’t earn a premiership point until it
has won four games.

Harsh? Maybe, but if the game is to be governed by a
salary cap then serious breaches must attract more than monetary penalties. Deducting
competition points is about the only effective penalty – and deterrent – the
NRL can impose.

Peter Fray

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