Storm to offload Hoffman, Quinn in bid to keep big four BRAD WALTER AND TOM REILLY
July 1, 2010
FORMER NSW Origin stars Ryan Hoffman and Anthony Quinn have been linked with Super League club Wigan as the Storm prepare to shed up to 10 players in a plan to get below the salary cap next season and retain the big four of Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.
With the audit by News Ltd-appointed accountants Deloitte having dragged on for more than two months, Melbourne officials have contacted player agents to determine whether the amount their clients expect to be paid next season tallies with the contracts registered with the NRL. They believe the club would exceed the salary cap by $1.3 million if no action is taken.
Deloitte is expected to provide News Ltd with the findings of its investigation in coming days, with the report believed to include an estimated $1.5m blowout in 2011, although doubts have been raised about the accounting firm’s understanding of the complexities of the NRL salary cap after representative bonuses for players unlikely to earn them were reportedly added to the total breach at one stage.
Despite the discrepancy, the plan devised by non-News Ltd aligned Storm board members Peter Maher and Gerry Ryan would enable Smith, Inglis, Slater and Cronk to remain at the club and ensure they aren’t lost to AFL or rugby union.
However, another eight to 10 players may be forced to leave and reports in England have already linked Hoffman and Quinn with a move to Wigan, who are coached by former Storm assistant Michael Maguire.
It is understood Maher and Ryan have discussed several variations of their proposal with Melbourne football club staff in the past two weeks and are confident Smith, Inglis, Slater and Cronk can be retained to form the nucleus of a new-look team in 2011.
With the NRL having announced a $100,000 increase in the salary cap to $4.2m next season and Smith willing to forgo the guaranteeing of his $100,000 per year deal with FoxSports, the figure the Storm need to cut from their wages bill has already been reduced and the plan does not factor in a $150,000 rise in the marquee player allowance for each club.
Already, the Storm have lost props Aiden Tolman and Ryan Tandy to Canterbury and five-eighth Brett Finch is also expected to leave, but the club will have to release some players under contract to get within the salary cap before the start of next season.
Several other clubs are believed to be in a similar position at this time of the year and are trying to manage their rosters to accommodate new recruits or players with upgraded contracts, but Melbourne’s position is more severe because of the salary cap rorting that resulted in the Storm being stripped of the 2007 and 2009 premierships and competition points earned this year.
New Zealand Test prop Jeff Lima had already been granted a release before the salary cap scandal and it is believed Hoffman, Quinn and Kiwis forwards Adam Blair and Sika Manu would also be allowed to leave if they found another club in a bid to help ease the Storm’s salary cap burden next season.
The Storm would replace them with players of lesser quality and with a lower value to play alongside rookies Matt Duffie, Justin O’Neill, Gareth Widdop and Jesse Bromwich, who are seen as the future of the club.
With players of that calibre coming through the ranks, Storm officials believe they could still field a competitive team next season if Smith, Inglis, Slater and Cronk remain in Melbourne to guide them.
The star quartet have made it clear they want to stay in Melbourne but all have had approaches from rival clubs or codes, with Essendon having been offered financial support to entice Inglis to follow the lead of Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau and switch to AFL.
Most NRL clubs are also waiting to see whether the Storm have to release any of the big four before making decisions on other talent, and Melbourne officials want the issue resolved as quickly as possible so they can advise players of their futures.
But the Herald reported last week that the Storm had been told they could not re-sign players such as centre Dane Nielsen or re-commit to those under contract until August at the earliest because of uncertainty over the size of the salary cap excess and legal action taken in the Victorian Supreme Court by the club’s four independent directors, including Maher and Ryan.
Storm insiders argue that the club has not breached the 2011 salary cap and is trying to get its house in order before next season but the delay makes that task harder.
The Deloitte investigation is believed to have been completed without the auditors interviewing all players because of fears that information provided may end up in stories in News Ltd papers discrediting them, the club and the independent directors in a bid to encourage the board to withdraw its court challenge against the penalties imposed over the salary cap breaches.
A leading player manager told the Herald he and other managers had advised their clients at the Storm against talking to Deloitte.
Remove guarantee of $100,000 Fox Sports deal from Cam Smith’s contract
Use $100,000 cap rise for NRL clubs to reduce blowout
Shed up to 10 players from 2010 roster to save up $1.3m
Replace their mid-range stars with lower-paid players of lesser quality
Rely heavily on boom rookies blooded this season
Build team around Smith, Inglis, Slater and Cronk
Melbournes strength has been its top 4 with a very well drilled squad. This top 4 won’t get them wins every week with a bunch of rookies. They have to let go of one of them at least.
If they keep Slater, Inglis, Cronk and Smith, they’ll have more than enough attacking prowess. As long as their fowards don’t get pushed backwards and their rookies can defend they’ll still come close to taking it out every year.
In light of the Storm’s cheating and his Origin results, I don’t rate Bellamy as high as I used to but one thing I will back him for is his ability to turn rookies into great players. Young players thrive under his coaching.
<big>HOFFMAN: IM NOT LEAVING THE STORM!!</big>
Melbourne Storm back-rower Ryan Hoffman has a blunt message for those suggesting he could be a victim of the club’s end-of-season purge: “I’m not going anywhere”.
Hoffman is one of a number of players linked in the past week with a move to English glamour club Wigan – who are coached by former Storm assistant coach Michael McGuire – as the disgraced former premiers try to offload up to $1.3 million in talent to get themselves under the salary cap in 2011.
Melbourne is determined to retain their key quartet of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Cooper Cronk but will almost certainly have to offload other big-name players in order to do so.
Those also believed to be in the firing line include Adam Blair, Sika Manu, Anthony Quinn and Jeff Lima, who has already been granted a release.’
But Hoffman told NRL.com that reports of his impending departure are wrong and insisted he had no intention of leaving Melbourne at the end of the year.
“I’m contracted until the end of 2012 with the Melbourne Storm and that’s what it is as far as I’m concerned,” the former Blues representative said. “I’ve got no plans to go anywhere else.
“I’m contracted – and that’s as far as it’s going.”
Hoffman said it had been a difficult few months for the playing group, whose collective futures remain clouded in uncertainty as they wait for accounting firm Deloitte to finish their audit of Melbourne’s massive salary cap rorting of the past few years.
But the 26-year-old is particularly concerned for rookies Matt Duffie and Justin O’Neill, who like the rest of the squad have been told they are unable to be re-signed until Deloitte’s final report has been issued.
“Look, it’s tough because they (Melbourne) want to keep their big four and everyone wants to stay at the club,” Hoffman said. “I’ve been at the club for eight years.
“But it’s also our young guys who I really hope don’t get forced out because of this.
“It’s particularly hard on them because they really want to stay at the club but like the rest of us they’ve got to wait for this report to find out what’s going on.
“We want to be fair to everyone in the game and everyone at the club so we’ve got to find a way for these young guys to secure their future.
“A guy like Justin O’Neill has earned his opportunity this year and taken it with both hands but he still hasn’t been able to secure his future because we have to wait for Deloitte.
“Hopefully we can sort it out sooner rather than later.”
Despite Hoffman’s stubborn insistence that he will remain with the Storm beyond 2011, it is clear that the club won’t be able to honour all contracts if they are to get themselves back under the salary cap.
But NRL boss David Gallop said all responsibility for sorting out the mess they created remained with Melbourne.
“Until Deloitte’s report is handed down we still don’t know just how far over the cap Melbourne is but certainly playing contracts can’t be varied without the agreement of both the player and the club,” Gallop said.
The Storm has already released prop Ryan Tandy to Canterbury with Aiden Tolman due to join him next season.
The futures of Brett Finch and Dane Nielsen also remain clouded.