Eels coach Brad Arthur says players will strive for premiership points.
Eels coach Brad Arthur says players will strive for premiership points. MICHAEL CHAMBERS

Eels vow to fight back from ‘kick in the guts’

Coach Brad Arthur has vowed Parramatta will not give up on finals football despite the “biggest kick in the guts” he has had in rugby league.

A sympathetic NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg left the door slightly open for Parramatta to still make the finals despite delivering the club a crushing penalty and a scathing attack on how it blatantly cheated the NRL’s salary cap and third-party payments as far back as 2013.

Greenberg threw the book at Parramatta, stripping it of its 12 premiership points, plummeting the club from fifth to last place.

The Eels also were stripped of their Auckland Nines title and slugged $1 million, with five club executives, including chairman Steve Sharp and chief executive John Boulous, all de-registered.

It is the harshest penalty handed out by the NRL since Melbourne was stripped of two premierships in 2010 for systematically breaching the salary cap, introduced in 1990 to even out the competition.

“There are 15 games to go and we need to win 12 of them,” a gutted Arthur said.

“It’s a big kick in the guts. We have to win 12 of our next 15 games, that’s the situation. We haven’t given up hope and we’re still committed to making it happen.”

While not sympathetic to Parramatta, Greenberg admitted feeling sad for its players and fans.

But unlike Melbourne, forced to play a season without being able to earn competition points, Greenberg has thrown the Eels some hope.

That’s providing the club can offload some players to other NRL clubs within the next 10 days to reduce its cap by $570,000.

A bitterly disappointed Greenberg, who stepped into to the NRL’s top job only 46 days ago, said the day nobody wanted to see had arrived.

“It’s a tough day for one of our great clubs and a tough day for the game and a truly heartbreaking day for Parramatta fans and their players,” Greenberg said before announcing the Eels’ penalties.

Two months of extensive investigations involving board members, football staff, club officials, former officials and a range of relevant parties had revealed a “deliberate co-ordinated and sustained system of salary cap cheating” by the club.

“Based on the information we currently have we believe the system was conducted with the knowledge and support of the club’s board and senior executive,” Greenberg said.

“These preliminary findings, regrettably are not only disappointing, they’re a stain on our game.”

Greenberg said Parramatta officials had conspired to get around the NRL’s salary cap to give their side an advantage.

The NRL’s Integrity Unit’s investigations uncovered:

Paying players undisclosed remuneration from the club’s own resources (some in cash payments).

Sourcing third party agreements for players in breach of salary cap rules.

Arranging with club suppliers to inflate or issue fictitious invoices to raise money that was to be made available to the players.

The Eels, who have hired some legal eagles, have five days to respond to its breach notices.

“The NRL will not reach a final view on either conduct or the final sanctions until the club and the officials have had a chance to respond,” Greenberg said.

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