Blackpool’s ten-point deduction is the latest in what is an increasing line of punishments handed down to clubs by the RFL in recent years.
It all started when London Broncos were forced into liquidation just weeks in to the 2005 Super League season but, owing to the lack of guidance in the rules and regulations, were controversially allowed to continue in the top flight after reforming as a new company, and eventually moving to Twickenham Stoop as Harlequins.
The first team to be deducted points in Super League were Wakefield, who had four points deducted (reduced to two on appeal) in 2001, while in 2003, St Helens, Halifax and Hull were all deducted two points for salary cap breaches.
In 2007, Wigan were then found guilty of exceeding the salary cap by more than £200,000 during their 2006 campaign, when the mid-season signing of Stuart Fielden, amongst others, helped save them from relegation after a turbulent campaign, at the expense of Castleford, who then investigated the possibility of pursuing legal action against the Warriors.
At the same time, Bradford were handed a two point deduction while St Helens were also fined, and following these punishments, the RFL tightened the auditing process of the salary cap, meaning that clubs would be monitored on a “live and ongoing basis.”
Outside of Super League, salary cap breaches are less common, but a host of clubs have been deducted points for entering administration, including Widnes, Keighley, Rochdale, Gateshead and Doncaster, which carries an automatic nine point deduction.
It is perhaps more concerning that so many clubs outside of the top flight are pushing themselves beyond their means, and then finding no way of paying back their debts. The attendances that some clubs get in the second and third tier are nothing more than pitiful, and throwing silly money at players can result in sad consequences for clubs and fans alike.
Rochdale coach John Stankevitch has taken the admirable decision to reveal all details of their player payments, revealing that all of his squad are on £250 for a win and £100 for a loss. He believes that any form of contract payments in Championship 1 are unsustainable.
It’s hard to argue with the former St Helens and Widnes forward, especially when you look at the size of crowds, which are one of the primary income generators for clubs at that level.
It is perhaps unfair to say that the RFL should be doing more to help lower league clubs manage their finances; clubs shouldn’t expect to be spoon-fed; however there may be a little bit of growing frustration that Championship clubs feel they get the rough end of the stick when it comes to punishments.
It remains unknown exactly what happened with Celtic Crusaders, but they were reportedly near to administration and eventually ended up relocating entirely to Wrexham, as a new business, virtually in the same way that London did back in 2005. They have also received no punishment from the RFL for fielding six players who were in the country illegally.
Halifax saw themselves thrown out of the Challenge Cup this season for fielding an ineligible player, perhaps unfortunate that they weren’t the first club to do it. Hull, of course, were handed a fine for fielding Jamie Thackray wrongly twice, and went on to reach a money-spinning Wembley final against St Helens in 2008.
For the Panthers, whether they’ve overcome their mid-season money troubles remains to be seen, but despite their punishment, they remain a force to be reckoned with in the Championship 1 play-offs, but let’s hope that they don’t follow Keighley’s lead in starting the campaign immediately after promotion with a nine point handicap.