Tentative but ready: clubs brace for exodus
GLENN JACKSON AND CHRIS BARRETT
April 24, 2010
AS ONE empire falls, another may take shape. Melbourne’s opponents, readying themselves to take advantage of the Storm’s salary cap plight, believe the disgraced club will have to shed one or more of their top-shelf talent in order to scrape under the salary cap next season.
Storm chairman Rob Moodie has already suggested some players could leave in the short-term, and comments yesterday by Jeff Lima’s manager Sam Ayoub - who foreshadowed inquiries being made about an early departure - supported the notion.
The Storm need to shed $700,000 from their salary cap in order to ‘‘participate’’ in the competition, according to the NRL’s chief executive David Gallop, which means they will not earn competition points next year until they adhere to the $4.1 million salary cap.
The first to go would likely be the off-contract players - Aiden Tolman, Brett Finch, Luke MacDougall and Ryan Tandy - while Lima, on contract until the end of 2011, had already negotiated an early release from the final year of his deal, ironically due to of cap pressures.
But those players are unlikely to make a significant enough dent in the Storm’s cap, and the club still needs to replace them in their 25-man squad for players on a minimum salary of $55,000. Club chief executives are speculating that Melbourne will have to wipe at least one of their key players - Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis or Billy Slater - from their roster.
Inglis and Slater are potential targets for rugby union as well as NRL clubs, while one chief executive said of Cronk: ‘‘There’ll be 15 (NRL) clubs after him.’’
Melbourne Rebels chairman Harold Mitchell in fact declared that his organisation might target Storm players in the wake of the scandal.
‘‘I’m told they have got some incredible and great players,’’ Mitchell said. ‘‘If they want to continue on in Melbourne, we’ve probably got a reason to talk to them. We don’t want to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune at the minute, but who knows where all that will lead in the future?’’
Gallop said yesterday that the taking of pay cuts, as the Bulldogs did after their 2002 scandal, or the immediate shedding of players would not alter the NRL’s decision to render every remaining match this season literally pointless for the Storm.
‘‘A playing roster was assembled that can’t easily be dismantled,’’ said Gallop. ''Players have contracts, (and) to simply ask them to take pay cuts to get below the salary cap would not dismantle the roster that’s been put together at the Melbourne Storm.
''Equally, if players were to leave the Melbourne Storm, one asks the question, where would they go? Our clubs are operating at their salary caps. It would be unfair on clubs and fans if players were placed in other clubs, putting them over the salary cap.
‘‘It is not fair that they finish ahead of any other team in this competition in the 2010 season …’’
That’s not to say the early option will not be investigated. When asked whether Lima might consider a release mid-season, given that the NRL’s decision leaves the Storm players with little to play for, Ayoub said: ‘‘There’s merit in the question. It’s certainly something that needs to be addressed and will be addressed. It’s worth considering.’’
Steve Gillis, the manager of Finch, said: ‘‘It hasn’t been thought of. It hasn’t been discussed. It’s way too early to even consider whether he looks at other options tomorrow or whenever.’’
Clubs were wary of ravaging the carcass of the deposed premiers, but Cronulla boss Richard Fisk could not help but concede the timing could help his embattled club.
‘‘We’re in the throes of constructing our full recruitment plan for 2011 at the moment … it’s probably quite good timing for us,’’ Fisk said. ‘‘We won’t be rushing in but obviously will be waiting until the whole thing pans out. It would depend who the player was. There’s no point just buying a name player if it’s not [in] the right position.’’
Brisbane chief executive Bruno Cullen said: ‘‘We don’t want to be predatory in that regard but if those sort of players did become available we’d have a look at them’’.
Wests Tigers boss Stephen Humphreys added: ‘‘Right now we would have to rethink a lot of things in order to accommodate any of the marquee players. It’s something we’ll have a think about but as I sit here today I wouldn’t rule anything in or out. But … we’re very comfortable with our playing roster.’’