Super League champions Wigan have been deducted two points ahead of the 2019 season for a salary cap breach in 2017.
The Warriors have received the news the day before they kick off the new Super League season against local rivals St Helens on Thursday night.
Wigan’s salary cap breach dates back to 2017, when the Warriors finished sixth and failed to make the play-offs.
The club have confirmed that it will appeal the ruling.
In a statement released by the RFL, it read: “Wigan Warriors have been deducted two points for the 2019 Betfred Super League season and fined £5,000, half of it suspended, after being found guilty of breaches of the salary cap in 2017 in relation to six separate payments, totalling £14,700.
“The decision was made by an independent tribunal on Thursday afternoon, chaired by His Honour Rodney Grant, with two former players as side members.
“Wigan were charged with alleged breaches in late 2018, following the audit of the 2017 salary cap, in relation to a number of payments that were not declared to the RFL.
“These included the payment of agents fees and a flight allowance, with the Club breaching the finite salary cap when these payments were included.
“They initially disputed that these payments were relevant to the salary cap, leading to the establishment of the independent tribunal.
“The club then admitted prior to the tribunal that all but one of the payments should have been included in its salary cap valuation for the season.
“There is a right to appeal this decision, as set out within the RFL Operational Rules.”
The Warriors have responded to the ruling, stating that the breach represented the club being at 100.8% of the salary cap.
A Wigan spokesperson said: “The breach was an administrative error arising from six small invoices of between £2000 and £3000 for agents’ fees which were overlooked by a new administrative team after Finance Department restructuring in January 2017.
“The mistakes coincided with an unprecedented sequence of injuries demanding multiple salary cap administration changes and dispensation applications.”
On the matter, Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan commented: “Throughout this process, Wigan has been fully co-operative and transparent with no suggestion of concealment or deception and acceptance formally of the breach.
“This is not an integrity or dishonesty issue, purely an administrative error by a new financial team in an exceptionally busy and disruptive circumstance.
“This breach clearly did not affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2017 yet the immediate deduction of two-points does affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2019.
“I take full responsibility for an admitted breach by Wigan and apologise unreservedly for the error and accept a fine is justified.
“However, in my experience of working in sport and sports governance, a points deduction is the last resort as a sanction for a significant level of breach.
“I am surprised that Wigan has been handed down a points-deduction sanction for such a marginal offence. Wigan will appeal against that aspect of the penalty.”
Wigan’s executive director Kris Radlinski added: “I apologise fully to everyone for the breach by Wigan but feel the points deduction is disproportionate to the level of breach.
“It has a significant effect on players, fans and the competitive balance of the season and is not consistent with the sanctions in other sports.”