The Cronulla Sharks spent over the permitted salary cap in 2015 and 2017.
In between, they won the NRL premiership and the powers at be appear to have little concern over the convenient assertion that ‘all was sweet’ in 2016.
In my view, that is a farcical denial of reality. Each and every year affects the next and the Sharks should have had the premiership stripped from their grasp.
Instead, the NRL suits pandered to the insular peninsular and the Sharks’ self-reporting of the book work gymnastics used by those masterminding the rort, and softened the eventual punishment.
The premiership would stand, $500,000 of a $1.25 million fine was suspended and Shane Flanagan took much of the professional fall for a systematic effort to rort the cap by those steering the ship.
In fact, discrepancies had emerged in the Sharks’ books as far back as 2013, however, the NRL insisted they had absolutely no impact on the 2016 premiership win. Right!
The punishments dished out to the club were less severe than those given to other clubs when caught in the act.
In 2002, the Bulldogs felt the full force of the NRL’s stance on salary cap rorting and had a winning season voided in the process. Melbourne Storm was rightfully stripped of three minor premierships and had two grand final successes obliterated from their history after the astonishing findings of 2010.
Parramatta also felt the wrath of the NRL when their underhanded behaviours were aired in 2016; with the club given a $1 million fine and stripped of its Auckland Nines title.
Each and every club deserved the proverbial throwing of the book, individuals to be held to accountable and the shame and associated embarrassment.
Whilst the Sharks have seen former Chairman Damien Keogh topple from power in 2017 due to drug possession and former coach Shane Flanagan de-registered for rather dopey use of an email account whilst annexed from the game, the key players behind the manipulation of the salary cap appear to have avoided the same scrutiny.
It is something of a joke to most of the rugby league community, a joke heightened by the immense depth and talent still assembled in the Sharks roster.
That joke has become somewhat less comical with Monday’s breaking news that Cronulla is already over the cap for 2020.
With the pending retirement of Paul Gallen and the departures of Jayden Brailey and Kyle Flanagan, it is somewhat astonishing that the Sharks could still be over budget heading into next season.
The rumours of their interest in young Knights star Jesse Ramien a few weeks back become somewhat mystifying considering the current state of the books and their obvious need to shed some talent to balance them up.
The reality appears to be that Shaun Johnson, Aaron Woods, Matt Moylan, Josh Dugan, Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham are eating up around half of the A$9.8 million that an NRL club is permitted to spend in 2020. The remaining 24 players also need to receive their piece of the pie; with many demanding far in excess of the $110,000 minimum wage.
The apparent incompetence of those currently holding the purse strings in the shire, a deliberate and systematic attempt to cheat the cap between 2013 and 2017 and the supplements saga of 2013/14 all bring the integrity of the game into question.
As yet, it appears the Sharks have not been formally asked to appear before the NRL Integrity Unit; a tool so oft used to manage and deal with the inappropriate behaviour of individual players.
When caught, convicted and punished, the expectation is that the guilty reform and do far better in the future. Cronulla-Sutherland appears to be heading back to the future as they once again drag the game through the mire.
Thankfully for the Sharks, the club will always receive relatively soft coverage from at least one journalist. Whilst viewing Fox Sports’ artificially combative and rather awkward program Controversy Corner on Monday night, a certain Cronulla apologist was in fine form.
Let’s call him Buzz Lightyear.
The facts around Cronulla’s financial numbers for 2020 were presented, the six top earners were visually displayed in an impressive graphic behind the desk that host Graeme Hughes commands and a discussion ensued about the general dos and don’ts of salary cap management.
Former Manly coach Geoff Toovey threw in his two cents worth and Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach spoke before Mr Lightyear verbalised the astonishing. Quickly shifting attention away from his beloved Sharks, their blatant cheating of the past and apparent mismanagement of the future, Buzz asked Hughes a question.
“Do you honestly agree that all 16 clubs are legit on the cap or do you think there is widespread rorting?”
It was a wonderful deflection, baseless really and designed to validate the 2016 premiership; something Mr Lightyear has been doing for some years now.
It spoke volumes about bias in the media and reminded us all that the Cronulla-Sharks have gotten off quite softly in the past, despite supplying many an unsavoury NRL headline.