Huddersfield Giants were investigated by the RFL over the signing of Bradford Bulls player Craig Kopczak, a court heard.
Lawyers representing sacked former Giants prop, Keith Mason, have revealed the transfer had been agreed well before Mr Mason was dismissed for allowing an obscene image to be posted on his Twitter account.
They say this, together with the fact that the club had signed two other forwards, Ukuma Ta'ia and Anthony Mullally, meant that the club had almost breached its salary cap and so was desperate to offload Mr Mason.
Yesterday at Leeds Crown Court, Giants’ managing director, Richard Thewlis, admitted the club had been hauled before the league to answer questions about Mr Kopczak’s recruitment.
The Bradford star quit the Odsal club in September 2012 following a summer of turmoil in the boardroom.
The club had gone into administration and its future in the league was uncertain.
But appearing in court on a summons, Mr Kopczak admitted he had agreed to sign for the Giants on August 8 although the formal paperwork had not been done until October 23.
Martin Budworth, representing Mr Mason, said the Giants had broken a “gentleman’s agreement” throughout Super League not to poach the Bulls’ players.
While no formal charges were filed by the RFL, the Giants did pay a £20,000 compensation fee to Bradford at the suggestion of the RFL.
Mr Budworth said the club were desperate to avoid legal action as they would have had to admit they had “done a deal” on August 8.
He said: “You had broken ranks and in the end you had to admit it to avoid legal action. Is it the case that you sought to throw the RFL off the scent?”
Mr Thewlis replied: “It was my belief the player was going to be a free agent.
“It seemed pragmatic for all concerned to draw a line under the matter and allow everybody to move on.
“The RFL suggested the compromise as they wouldn't allow us his registration without it.”
Mr Kopczak was formally signed the day after the RFL hearing completed and his pay backdated to September 1.
Mr Budworth, said further evidence the Giants had “turned the screw” on Mr Mason in a bid to get him to move to Wakefield was a letter from the Mr Thewlis to his agent in August.
It revealed the club had already signed three new props and that he may have to drop down to playing in the Championship with partner club Batley Bulldogs if he was not picked by new coach Paul Anderson.
Mr Budworth said if the club had retained his client, together with the salary of another recruit, former GB star Stuart Fielden, they would have been at 99.3% of their £1.65m salary cap.
“No club would allow themselves to be that close at that time of the season,” he said.
Mr Budworth also suggested players’ win bonuses could have put them at risk of breaching it, with severe sanctions such as 20 point deductions or even expulsion from the league.
Mr Thewlis disagreed.
Appearing before His Honour, Judge Andrew Saffman, Mr Fielden, who was signed a few weeks after Mr Mason’s sacking, was asked if he thought it was likely Mr Mason would be able to better his current £41,500 one-year deal at Castleford in the 2014 season.
He said he doubted it.
“He’s not exactly been setting the world alight at Cas,” he said. In his career he’s not won anything, he’s not been a top performer, I doubt he’ll get more than £55,000.”
Mr Budworth said it was odd Giants bosses had known about the offensive tweet on Tuesday, September 18, but had not contacted his client.
“You’d convinced yourselves that you’d got him,” he said. “Nobody contacted him to say, listen do yourself a favour and remove it.”
Mr Thewlis said he had contacted Mr Mason’s agent on the Tuesday or Wednesday but admitted he had not mentioned it when he exchanged pleasantries with the player at the stadium on Thursday.
But taking the stand later in the day, Mr Mason’s then agent, Martin Shuttleworth, was unable to confirm what day he had found out about it.
Mr Budworth said to Mr Thewlis: “You know full well you didn’t contact his manager, you’re trying to paper over the cracks.”
The case continues.
Keith Mason’s lawyer raised comparisons with another infamous Twitter incident.
In an exchange in court Martin Budworth referred to an infamous Mad Monday incident in Australia involving now Warrington Wolves player Joel Monaghan.
Mr Monaghan (inset) was photographed with a dog performing a sex act on him.
Mr Budworth alleged the daughter of Giants vice chairman, Dr Paul Morgan, had been looking for transgressions on Twitter following last year’s Mad Monday shenanigans involving Mason.
She allegedly told her father the picture of Scott Moore’s backside on Mr Mason’s Twitter account was “worse than what ended Monaghan’s career in Australia”.
But Mr Budworth said Monaghan had in fact not been sacked or disciplined.
Mr Budworth asked Giants’ managing director Richard Thewlis: “The view was taken that what you were looking at here was worse as it had been posted by the player himself.
“You were going to use this as an opportunity to get rid of Keith Mason?”
“I don’t agree,” said Mr Thewlis.