Huddersfield Giants have been joined at the bottom of the Super League table by Salford, who have been deducted six points for breaching salary cap.
The Red Devils were found guilty by an independent tribunal of breaking the Rugby Football League’s operational rules and £1.825m salary cap over contractual arrangements made with three unnamed players in 2014 and 2015.
The tribunal found the club not guilty of a number of offences concerning payments to two other players.
“We’re disappointed but pleased in some respects because some of the allegations were not found to be proven,” said lawyer Paul Barrow, of Liverpool-based Quinn Barrow solicitors. “Some were.
“The allegations stemmed from several years ago and what the tribunal also found was that actually things have improved massively and there may have been an issue of naivety. That’s all that really there was to be concerned about.”
One of the players at the centre of salary-cap breach is thought to be former New Zealand international Tony Puletua, whose transfer from St Helens to Salford in 2014 was highlighted by Bradford chairman Marc Green when he called for the RFL to investigate the Red Devils’ financial dealings.
Salford owner Marwan Koukash, who emerged crestfallen on Monday night after spending six hours alongside his three-man legal team at RFL’s Red Hall headquarters on the outskirts of Leeds, maintained his club’s innocence over the Puletua affair and claimed he had not received a fair hearing.
“I’m really shocked and very disappointed,” said Koukash, who had threatened to take the matter to the highest court in the land in order to prove his club’s innocence.
“We did not breach the salary cap and are still penalised. It’s their court, their rules and we can’t argue against that.”
Salford, who were also fined £5,000, have 14 days to lodge an appeal but Barrow said it is unlikely they will pursue that option.
“We maintain that the contract Puletua had was a genuine contract for issues nothing to with his playing contract but the tribunal found against us on that point and so be it,” he said. “We accept that.
“We believe that the tariff and the sanction is excessive but at the end of the day, we’ll move on. We’re going to consider whether an appeal is appropriate but it’s unlikely.”
The points deduction will be imposed immediately, which means Salford drop to 11th in the table, above only Huddersfield on points difference, and they could go bottom if the Giants beat Leeds on Friday.
The sanction equals the heaviest handed out to a club since the advent of Super League in 1996.
Wigan were docked four points nine years ago after going over the then £1.6m wage ceiling by £222,314 the previous season when they were fighting relegation, while Bradford were ordered to forfeit six points after going into administration in 2012.
Since then, the RFL drastically increased the sanctions and now has the power to deduct up to 20 points.