THE Parramatta Eels have been docked 12 points by the NRL and face massive sanctions for allegedly “operating a system designed to enable it to exceed the salary cap without detection” since 2013.
The NRL has released a statement alleging the Eels to be currently over the salary cap by “around $575,000” with the Eels unable to play for competition points again until this is addressed, which will force the club into an immediate fire sale.
Addressing the media this morning, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the NRL’s investigation — the most comprehensive ever handled by the Integrity Unit — uncovered “deliberate and sustained cheating”, amounting to $3 million of player payments over the salary cap in the last three years.
It is understood the NRL’s investigation uncovered that players were allegedly given payments in cash at times.
Greenberg said the NRL had repeatedly asked Parramatta to be open about how they were operating their salary cap but even as the net closed in, he said the club was deliberately elusive.
Still, the Eels will be given an opportunity to give a detailed response to the allegations and according to Greenberg, no final determination will be made until the club’s response is considered.
“We will consider the club’s response with an open mind. It’s important that everyone understands that we will not reach a final view on either conduct or the sanctions until the club and the officials have had a chance to respond,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg said the NRL had decided an outcome from a position of strength, with thousands of documents stitching the investigation together to develop “extremely strong” evidence.
Greenberg said the NRL was alleging that since 2011 the Eels have been over the salary cap for five out of six seasons, including 2016.
Along with the points deduction, Parramatta face a $1 million fine, with $250,000 of that to be suspended if the club complies with the NRL’s conditions “within a specified time frame”.
In a final blow, Parramatta’s only recent silverware, the Auckland Nines title won in the pre-season will be stripped.
“I know this is a devastating outcome for many people, particularly the players and the fans,” Greenberg said.
“The strong performance from the Eels this year has been great for rugby league and has been great for their huge supporter base.
“If the preliminary findings prove to be justified we cannot allow any club to continually thumb its nose at the salary cap. So we have to go through this pain for both the long-term health of the club and also the game.”
The jobs of five Parramatta officials, including chairman Steve Sharp and CEO John Boulous, are on the line after they were hit with show cause notices to show why their registrations should not be cancelled.
Eels deputy chairman Tom Issa, director Peter Serrao and football manager Daniel Anderson also face the chop.
“This comes at the end of a period of instability for this club,” Greenberg said.
“In the last seven years this club has had 25 directors, six CEOs and four head coaches. They’ve breached the salary cap rules in five of the last six years.
“This has to stop and it stops today.”
Parramatta on Tuesday afternoon released a brief statement responding to the NRL’s findings.
“The club has been briefed by the NRL regarding their preliminary findings of the salary cap investigation,” the statement said.
“The club is currently examining in detail all aspects of the preliminary findings to understand the options available to the club and possible next steps.”
It is understood the NRL believes the only Parramatta official who handled himself with integrity during the investigation was coach Brad Arthur, with the NRL underwhelmed by the lack of honesty exhibited by club officials.
Greenberg said he went to Parramatta to address the players with news of the penalty in person this morning, saying it was “important” he didn’t just send a messenger.
“As the governing body, we have a responsibility to act in the interests of the game for the long term,” Greenberg said in a statement released by the NRL.
“At times, it gives us no pleasure to have to do so and this is one of those. But we have to take a stand on behalf of the fans, the club and the game.
Greenberg said the club had been fined for breaches of the salary cap rules in five of the last six years and now it had been exposed for operating a system designed to cheat the cap.
“We will need to take a stand on behalf of the fans, the club and the game,” he said.
“This would be a tough outcome for many people, particularly the players and fans, but we believe it would be the start of a process to make the Parramatta club the powerhouse it should be.
“Unfortunately, we may have to go through this pain for the long term health of the club and the game.”
The decision gives the Eels a glimmer of hope of playing finals, with 15 games remaining plus two byes.
If they were to win every game remaining this season they would finish on 34 points, which would likely put them six points above the cut off for making the top eight.