THE Cronulla Sharks’ premiership campaign has been rocked by revelations the NRL’s integrity unit is investigating the club for potential salary cap breaches on the eve of the finals series.
Integrity unit forensic investigators arrived at Sharks Leagues club three months ago after the club’s new chief executive Barry Russell conducted an internal review and found suspicious payments dating back to 2015. He reported it to the NRL.
The Daily Telegraph understands the amount involved is around the $250,000 mark but could go higher once thousands of documents have been examined.
Although one Sharks official admitted: “Now they’ve taken our server, we don’t know what they’ll find.”
The Sharks are embroiled in a salacy cap crisis on the eve of the finals.
The NRL is confident the club is salary cap compliant this year and can play in the finals.
Investigators have scanned computer hard drives and seized five years of emails from the club’s internet server plus mobile phone records of officials and staff.
This is same procedure the integrity unit used when investigating the Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles in the more recent salary cap scandals.
“We conducted a full governance review when I first started in March,” Russell said.
“We discovered some historical cap issues in relation to third party payments.
“We self-declared to the NRL and have since been working with the integrity unit in an on-going investigation. We cannot tolerate anything that’s done against NRL guidelines.
“Importantly for the 2018 season we are cap compliant.”
New Cronulla Sharks chief executive found suspicious payments during an internal review.
The original tip-off may have involved an undisclosed third party payment to a player as far back as 2015. That player is still at the club.
A spokesman for the NRL confirmed that the Sharks had asked the Integrity Unit to make inquiries into salary cap matters at the club.
“Those inquiries are on-going so we are not in a position to comment further at this stage,” the spokesman said.
“However, based on the information available, the Sharks and all other clubs are salary cap compliant for 2018.”
Cronulla Sharks chairman Dino Mezzatesta is aware of the possible salary cap breaches. Picture: Brett Costello
Only Russell and the club’s chairman Dino Mezzatesta have been aware of the payment issues.
According to NRL sources a payment outside the salary cap has been confirmed from 2015 but is not significant enough to strip the Sharks of the 2016 premiership, their first in 50 years.
It’s when the integrity unit decided to move in and check more recent financial records.
After winning the premiership in 2016, the Sharks faced a struggle to keep the team together.
Players’ values soared on the back of winning the title.
Despite the retirement of grand final hero Michael Ennis and the departure of Ben Barba after his cocaine scandal, the Sharks still needed to upgrade many of the players’ salaries to keep them in the Shire.
This is the worst news for Sharks fans on the eve of the finals. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)
This is when it is alleged some were paid undeclared third party payments.
At a recent Sharks board meeting, directors called on the football club’s senior management to provide more transparency in the salary cap and player payments.
They had been kept in the dark over the recent signings of Bulldogs stars Aaron Woods and Josh Morris.
In March the Manly Sea Eagles were fined $750,000 and had $700,000 removed from their salary cap for two seasons after being found to have breached the cap. They are now waiting on an appeal verdict.
Manly’s breaches involved as many as 15 players over five years, totalling $1.5 million.
The Parramatta Eels were stripped on 12 competition points and fined $1 million by the NRL after the Daily Telegraph exposed years of player payment cheating and illegal third-party contracts.
Be funny if they are stripped of the 2016 premiership for rorting, I am sure easts were rorting in 2013 when they won
I was watching fox footy rhe other day and saw the trophy… Thought to myself there’s nearly no room for any more premiers badges on it.
There was only about 10 on it when we won… maybe 07, 09 & 16 can just be left blank lol