Off the Wall

I have quite deliberately refrained from writing about the off field issues surrounding the Gold Coast Titans for two reasons.


Firstly, I know Michael Searle, the Titans CEO, and been privileged to provide him advice and assistance on an informal basis. No remuneration has been involved.


Secondly, I believe in due process, something he and the Titans have been denied. I have been happy for the salary cap investigation to take its course.


But I feel duty bound, now the salary cap investigation has cleared the Titans, to make just a few observations which I am happy to be regarded as a defence of Michael Searle.


The relentless media campaign over the issue has ignored one really quite fundamental question which ought to have given rise to caution about the allegations made against the Titans, against Scott Prince, and Michael Searle.


And that question is not the commercial dispute between the club and a builder who has been the source of the allegations of a salary cap breach.


The alleged breach of the salary cap - now dismissed by the NRL - was supposed to have occurred late last year, and early in 2010.


In the period in question, Michael Searle was in the headlines, on an almost daily basis, as a result of his very public and quite unashamed role in pushing for an independent commission to run rugby league in Australia.


Inevitably, his high profile role would attract enemies, principally among the well remunerated officials who stand to lose their positions in a streamlined administration of the game. And enemies he has attracted!


That raises this quite fundamental question which the media seems to have totally ignored.

Does anyone seriously believe that Michael Searle - given his profile, and the scrutiny his role in the push for an independent commission has attracted - would have anything to do with an alleged major salary cap "rort" the nature of which would surely mean it would inevitably be scrutinised if not exposed?


The push for an independent commission was attracting powerful enemies long before the events investigated by the NRL salary cap auditor allegedly occurred. And, as I have pointed out, Michael Searle was the target of the anti-independent commission, anti-merger groups within the game months earlier.


Putting aside the danger in any club official sanctioning significant salary cap breaches - and the alleged breach would have been a very significant one - it is impossible for me to accept that one of the highest profile, and most scrutinised, club officials in the NRL would have been a party to even a discussion on a serious salary cap breach, let alone formally sanction one.


Anyone who knows Michael will confirm he is passionate about his club, and rugby league. And anyone who knows him he would not put the integrity of either at risk.


And he, more than most, has invested his own funds in the future of his club, and the competition it plays in - and he has unquestionably invested substantially.


I am happy for the commercial matters now before the courts to be decided by due process.

But when it comes to Michael's integrity and decency arising from the allegations of salary cap rorting he has been exonerated by the process the NRL has set up.


My hope is that this experience has not diminished his commitment to the reform of the administration of the greatest game of all.


The vested interests determined to slow down, if not totally sabotage, reform may have had nothing to do with the allegations - but they undoubtedly were watching the process with more than a passing interest!


The game now, more than ever, need visionary, and determined administrators - Michael Searle is, and must remain, one of them.