To cap it all

So the salary cap rears its ugly head once again. This time it’s Bradford Bulls, St Helens and Wigan Warriors facing the accusations (although Wigan haven’t yet been found guilty of doing anything it must be stressed). So what do last night’s rulings actually mean?

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For St Helens it means a minor breach of the cap. The club haven’t been docked any points, so this was only a minimal infringement. The breach is though to relate to bonus payments made to James Graham and Ade Gardner for Great Britain call ups.

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Saints’ infringement was so marginal that it can scarcely have had any effect at all on their success last season. A larger overspend I feel should have resulted in the club being stripped of its titles, but to do that now would cause too much bad publicity. Nonetheless this is still pretty embarrassing.

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Bradford, apparently, have gone 4 per cent over the salary cap limit, so they have been docked two competition points. This isn’t exactly a huge loss for the Bulls on the face of it – they still stand in third place. But it may cost them a top-two finish by the end of the season.

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It could have been worse though for Bradford. Under the new scale of punishments they should have been docked four points – but fortunately for them Wigan Warriors successfully argued that the new set of penalties apply only for infringements in season 2007 and afterwards.

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Wigan haven’t had their full hearing yet – that will come later this month. But their pre-hearing hearing, such as it was, to get the scale of penalties cut in half does seem an admission of guilt. This might not be the case, but when the accused starts arguing about his sentence before his trial, then you have to wonder.

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All in all this episode leaves a bad taste in the mouth, again. And it’s not over yet, with the Warriors set to face the RFL later this month. Let’s hope that Wigan aren’t guilty of any cheating, but if they are, let’s hope that justice is done.

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The Castleford question

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Of course, even if Wigan are slapped with a hefty points deduction, that won’t make Castleford Tigers any happier. It was bad enough that they were relegated from 11th place because of Les Catalans Dragons’ exemption, but to find that they may have stayed up but the Warriors’ alleged overspend must be a bitter blow.

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It’s difficult to know quite what to do. Perhaps Wigan could be sent down into National League One, with Cas taking their place in Super League.  But that depends very much on the size of the salary cap breach. Would a small infringement warrant such drastic action? After all the Tigers themselves were guilty of a minor infringement when they were promoted.

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This episode clearly shows why deductions need to take place in same season as the infringements. If it turns out that Wigan did break the rules, then this may have helped them to stay up, as the signings of Stuart Fielden and Michael Dobson were crucial. It’s hard to see a satisfactory conclusion to this one.

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Live and kicking

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Hopefully things will change next year when the salary cap goes “live”. Under the new system a club must calcuate its wage bill at the start of the year so that it fits under the cap, and if it wants to make any signings it must prove to the RFL that it can stay within the salary cap.

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This, the RFL says, means that a club cannot breach the cap through miscalcuation or mismanagement – which we can assume means that only genuine cheats will break the cap, and hefty punishments will follow, just like in the NRL. And worse than the NRL, a top club that breaks the cap may find itself fighting against relegation.

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Whether or not the new system will be effective remains to be seen. The RFL seem confident, although they have been confident before. I hope it is, and we see the back of thse episodes, because it’s much better to be able to talk about what happens on the pitch, not in the accountants’ offices.

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