Super League: "Rules? What
Rules?"

Three years ago, Canterbury Bulldogs were caught breaching the NRL salary cap by A$400,000 for the 2002 season, and by A$600,000 for the 2001 season. The Bulldogs? punishment was harsh ? the loss of 37 competition points, and a fine of A$500,000.

There is no question as to the intended purposes of the salary cap: to ensure that all clubs have equal financial access to talent, whilst ensuring that the clubs spend just a sustainable amount on player salaries, thus preventing the spectacle of a club going into receivership?

?wait a moment ? so much for that thought.

A few weeks ago, in the English Super League, London Broncos were doing better than they had in years ? they destroyed Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 72-8, running in six tries in each half. Then came the announcement ? Broncos were nearly ?3 million in debt, and were about to go into receivership ? with half of the debt owed to Inland Revenue, it would take some very fancy footwork to avoid folding the club.

At an emergency meeting of the Super League clubs this month, the other eleven sides agreed to allow a new company to take over the Broncos, write off the debt without penalty, and not lose a single competition point ? contingent upon the Broncos agreeing to six conditions, which have not been made public by Super League. The chairman of Broncos, Nic Cartwright, told BBC Sport, "We're not bleating at all. We totally understand the need for the conditions and we will respect them and follow them in full." [1]

But, as BBC Sport rugby league analyst Dave Woods noted on the BBC Sport website, ??how did London build up ?3m of debts in the first place?? Since there were no salary cap breaches, Woods speculated on several possible causes, such as high ground rents, low attendance (London is a traditional union stronghold), or spendthrift administration. [2] But, given the silence of Super League and the Broncos, we just don?t know for certain.

However, we do know this ? the conditions do not include a loss of competition points for Broncos. Considering the comments of Bradford Bulls chairman Chris Caisley last week, speaking to the BBC, this likely did not go down easily at the emergency meeting:

"A club that has left the Inland Revenue with a ?1.5m debt and moved its players to a new debt-free company gets royally applauded in the media for surmounting its financial difficulties. The business is then allowed to freely compete in the Super League competition and to do so without penalty.

Bizarrely, not only is the new entrant not penalised, it is 'given' the four competition points which were earned by the old club! Such is a snapshot of a week in the life of the London Broncos." [3]

As Woods points out, there is another governance issue in Super League bruited here ? a very crucial one to understanding the problem the Broncos? receivership caused. He writes, ?The future of the Broncos was decided by the other 11 Super League clubs. Imagine if several of those clubs decided they would vote London out, simply to ensure that they themselves weren't relegated this season.? [2]

That could have easily happened ? this season, two Super League clubs will be relegated, instead of one, because of the entry of the French side, UTC Perpignan, next season. If London was forced out of Super League, only one side would have been at risk of relegation.

There is another issue: the fact that the Broncos are the only Super League side outside of the ?M62 Corridor? ? the road from Liverpool to Hull, and the area from which all Super League sides, save Broncos, hail from. If league is going to really grow in England, it must succeed in London, the pundits say.

Could Super League have given Broncos an indulgence from its transgressions, in order to keep a foothold in the largest current single market for rugby league in the world? After all, by not having to pay the ?3 million of debt it owed, one can say Broncos gained a significant advantage over the other Super League sides ? an advantage that makes Bulldogs? sins look quite trivial by comparison.

And I thought the Bulldogs deserved the penalty they got. What of Broncos, then? As Major Hochsteader once said, ?They should be shot, court-martialed, AND sent to the Russian Front!!!?

A bit harsh, perhaps ? but given what Bulldogs went through, Broncos deserve at least that much?.

References:

[1] - Broncos forced to meet conditions ? by James Standley, BBC Sport Online, 7 March 2005; http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_league/super_league/london/4325563.stm

[2] ? Broncos? battle raises more questions ? by Dave Woods, BBC Sport Online, 5 March 2005; http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_league/4321089.stm

[3] ? Bradford boss hits out at Broncos ? BBC Sport Online, 18 March 2005; http://newswww.bbc.net.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_league/super_league/4363079.stm

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