In The Eye of the Storm

The world of sport in Melbourne has never seen so much drama for a sporting city.  In short, Melbourne Storm, who have been one of the top sides in the National Rugby League in Australia (NRL) have pleaded guilty to breaches of salary cap rules imposed by the NRL.  The breaches relate to the last five years and in total amount to $1.7m Australian Dollars, including a $400,000 breach last year, and a projected $700,000 breach this year.   The penalties may seen draconian, and include repayment of $1.5m prize money which would be distributed amongst the other 15 NRL Clubs, together with a $500,000 fine and a guaranteed nil points for this present 2010 season.

What has been revealed in the last few days is that Melbourne Storm have kept two sets of books – one for public consumption and the other showing payments not revealed under salary cap rules, all hidden away in an office away from the main buildings.

Reports from Australia reveal that the aftermath has just started, and in a weekend of drama: 

    The Federal Financial Watchdog – the Australian Security and Investment Commission (ACIS) together with the Police would carry out an investigation into the Melbourne Club to see whether there have been any criminal activities.   If there have been criminal offences, officials could face a period of incarnation if they signed declarations knowing them to be false and are found guilty.
    Australian tax authorities will be carrying out an audit not only of Melbourne Storm’s books, but also every other NRL Club, as well as the taxation returns of players who have played for Melbourne in the last 5 years.
    Australian Rules officials will also check on two AFL Clubs in which the former Storm Chief Executive Brian Waldron was involved before switching to Rugby League.
    Craig Bellamy, the Head Coach of Melbourne has appealed to fans not to desert the Club, and there is some suggestion in the Australian media that some of the lower paid players were not 100% behind the so-called united stand, with Luke MacDougall, Kevin Proctor, Chase Stanley and Hep Cahill dropped into the Club’s NSW cup side, however there has been no confirmation of this.

The events at Melbourne over the last few days clearly send a shiver down the spine of any clubs who are subject to salary cap regulations.  Rules are rules and are designed to ensure fair play and to protect the game from over-spending on player salaries.   Without doubt, the Super League competition has improved and there is a levelling out of standards between the Clubs with more unpredictability than ever before.

Sadly the players of Melbourne are likely to suffer as a result of what has happened.  However, where there is light at the end of the tornado is that last Sunday, Melbourne handsomely beat New Zealand Warriors 40 points to 6 in front of 23,000 loyal fans.  What this shows is that when it matters, professional Rugby League players are able to play to the highest possible standard and remain professional in their overall commitment.

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