What’s the bet that the NRL referees are extremely grateful to the Melbourne Storm. Having been in the firing line for sub-standard performances last weekend, they have well and truly been overtaken in the controversy stakes by the startling news to come out of Australia today, that Melbourne have had their points from matches won so far this season docked. Not only that, they will not accrue any further points this season, effectively consigning them to the wooden spoon already at this early stage of the season. It gets worse for them, though. As well as losing this seasons points, they have had three minor premierships and two grand final win stripped, as well. But wait, there’s more. To add to their grief, they have been fined $500000 and their winnings from the last five seasons of 1.1 million dollars is to be returned.
So, not a good day for the Storm then. Some will be questioning why Melbourne has lost this season’s points as well as their premierships. It’s simple really, in so far as they have been found to be $700000 over the cap for 2010. There will be, of course, be those who will claim that there shouldn’t be a salary cap. This really is missing the point. Quite simply, whether one agrees with the cap or not, the reality is that it does exist and the rules are the same for all sixteen clubs. If the other fifteen clubs must keep to the rules of the cap, why then should Melbourne be exempt? The short answer is that they shouldn’t.
Though, we now know how Melbourne was able to keep so many of the game’s superstars at the club. That they could have the likes of Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater on the books has always seemed incredible. And what’s more, there have been rumours floating around recently that Israel Folau may have been heading back to Melbourne. These may or may not have been true, but if they were, how were they planning on paying the guy within the salary cap. Have a think about that one.
By cheating the salary cap to the extent that they have has been nothing short of disgraceful. While it is unlikely that the players knew anything about the financial goings on of the club, clearly there are some administrators within the Storm that have systematically and deliberately gone out of their way to cheat the system. Shame on them. It’s not as if they had only duped the NRL for one season. Instead they have been going at it for five long years.
And when you think about it, it’s not that they have cheated the NRL’s rules that is the worst thing about the whole scenario. No, it is the fact that they have cheated teams such as Parramatta in 2009 and Manly in 2007 out of the chance of winning a grand final. And then there are the fans. The fans of rival clubs that have seen their team’s chances of overall success in the competition affected by losing to a team that was put together using nefarious methods.
What is even worse is the disrespect that the Melbourne Storm officials have shown to their own fans. Those hardcore twelve or thirteen thousand fans that turn up to support their team no matter what. Those supporters have every right to feel gutted by what has happened and if they have lost faith in their club, who could possibly blame them? For it is simply breathtaking the arrogance with which the administrators responsible have shown towards the rest of the rugby league community. That they went to the extent of having two sets of books, one which they showed the NRL and the other that they actually paid the players with, over a period of five years displays nothing but contempt for the game in general.
And even worse is the fact they, along with everyone else in rugby league, saw what happened to the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2002 when they were caught abusing the salary cap. And yet Melbourne officials were still prepared to take that risk. Well, they only have themselves to blame for the predicament that they now find themselves in.
Will Melbourne survive? It is hard to see how they will recover in the long term. Now that they have nothing to play for this year, the crowd numbers may dwindle. Retaining sponsorship will now become an issue. What company would want to have their brand associated with one of the game’s biggest cheaters? This of course means that the club will be bringing in less revenue, which will in turn affect their ability to keep their star players. In reality, they will lose some of them now unless Smith, Inglis, Slater and co are prepared to take pay cuts to help the club get back within the salary cap limit.
If those players aren’t prepared to do that, then the Storm will have their side decimated. And an average quality side will not be able to bring in the punters in what is the AFL heartland. As it is, Melbourne already depends on News Ltd to keep them afloat.
The events of the last twelve hours may have seen the start of the end for the Melbourne Storm.