Off the Wall

The sideshow involving Brian Waldron and his former employers, news Limited, is just that - a sideshow. It is not the main game today - the integrity of the salary cap is.

The attacks on Waldron by the News CEO, and his own threats to "name clubs and name names", is good media copy, but it must not distract attention from the central issue that arises from last week's exposure of systemic and high level salary cap rorting at the Storm.

A salary cap in any code is only useful if it rigorously enforced, and is not subject to cheating and rorting on a significant scale.

I am today far from certain that, with regard to the NRL salary cap, the answer to either question is in the affirmative.

And I am equally far from certain that forensic genius was involved in last week's salary cap exposure.

It appears that the salary cap auditor was given at least some indication in September/October last year that all was not well - but it took until the third week in April, and even then possibly only with the assistance of a whistleblower, to uncover what is admittedly a complex abuse of the salary cap. And apparently the initial "indications" may have been handed over by a junior staffer in error!

Complex, but also very extensive...and one has to wonder while it took something like eight or nine months to gain any evidence of it?

If it took a mistake by a junior staffer, and then possibly a whistleblower, to finally uncover rorting that amounts to close to $1 million this year alone - and probably $2 million over four or five years - what would it take to uncover rorting of say as little as $200,000 in another club?

That is the real issue today.

The media quotes half a dozen unnamed NRL club CEO's suggesting salary cap abuse extends much beyond the Storm. Should we be surprised?

As I wrote when the Storm rort was exposed, it is surely time to clean out the whole stable?

I have reservations about the salary cap, but if we are to have it, then it must be enforced rigorously.

There is no doubt the heavy penalties imposed on the Storm were partly to serve as a deterrent to other clubs. Eight years ago the Bulldogs were penalised heavily to serve as a deterrent as well! Yet is it no clear the Storm were rorting the salary cap within three or four years of the Bulldogs being exposed.

There are any number of officials who are happy for the headlines to be centred on the Waldron - News stoush.

But the reality is that the integrity of the salary cap now has a dark cloud hanging over it.

It has been suggested that the NRL needs to beef up its salary cap team.

It has also been suggested that an amnesty for any club owning up to salary cap rorts is needed. But that will only work if the amnesty is followed up by a forensic examination of all clubs and players - and other parties such as player managers.

Are we going to get that? I seriously doubt it!

Meanwhile, Warren Ryan continues to rail against the penalties the NRL gave the Storm last week.

His point that how would the NRL penalise a club which had not won any premierships, or minor premierships, or had rarely won any games but still breached the salary cap is a not unreasonable one?

The central proposal he makes - that a club should be forced to work off a diminished salary cap for a period equal to the number of years the rorting took place - is one the NRL needs to seriously consider...either now, or for future offences. And it needs to include a requirement that it work off the diminished salary cap immediately.

The fact that the Storm are allowed to take the field with a team being paid around 20 per cent more than the salary cap provides - even if it cannot accumulate premiership points - is an anomaly.

A penalty requiring a team to field a team on a reduced salary cap for a number of years would be a significant deterrent! For any team....the Storm included!