The Four Heads that Had to Roll

Filed in Other by on December 11, 2010

News Limited did the right thing in firing the Storm’s four independent directors soon after the Deloitte report into the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal was received at News headquarters in Surry Hills. Chairman Rob Moodie and his litigious and deluded cohorts had to go. They were doing irreparable damage to rugby league and the Melbourne Storm and News Limited had little choice but to remove them from the Storm board. John Hartigan had given the directors ample time: to explain themselves, to enter into mediation with News Limited, to stop their legal action, to assist with the investigation into the salary cap rorting, to resign their positions once they became untenable.

The dismissal of the four independent directors was the biggest news to come out of the Deloitte report and subsequent press conference with News boss John Hartigan.

The four independent directors had, in the misguided belief that they were acting in the best interests of the Melbourne Storm, undertaken legal action against the NRL. These four directors were acting on the impulsive wants of players and fans but these were not the long-term interests of the Melbourne Storm or rugby league in Victoria.

This legal action was pursued against the wishes of News Limited, owner of the Melbourne Storm. Rob Moodie and company had rejected mediation talks with News and the NRL and promoted conspiracy theories that significantly hurt the code and continued to prevent the club rebuilding for the future. The foursome had refused to resign from the board of the Storm despite being asked to by News on numerous occasions and even though their positions became so untenable that it is likely even Richard Nixon would have walked these fools stuck on. The independent directors questioned the legitimacy of the Deloitte investigation with Moodie this week stating "it was clear from the outset that the inquiry was set up to serve the best interests of News Ltd rather than the best interests of the Melbourne Storm." Three of the four independent directors, including Moodie, refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Revelations that the size of the salary cap breaches neared $3.2 million and was over 83% above initial estimations point to the delusion exhibited by the four independent directors. Initial estimations were enough for the NRL to hand down the toughest penalty in the history of the code and yet the cheating was significantly worse. All the while the directors, who allowed such cheating to go on under their collective nose, believed they had a right to challenge the magnitude of the penalty. At least News had the decency to accept the penalties and attempt to begin the rebuilding process as quickly as possible.

There was and is no point in running up lawyer’s bills trying to reclaim the 2007 and 2009 premierships. The trophies have been taken away but the memories still exist. The history books will state premiership defaulted but there will always be an asterisks and it will always note Melbourne won the premiership. At any rate, the memories of Melbourne’s victories remain and that is essentially what premierships are about for fans and players. Those memories can never be taken away and while they have been diminished somewhat by the rorting there has never been any serious argument put up that they were undeserving premiers. Breaking the cap gives teams an edge but it doesn’t ensure a premiership. Parramatta anybody? That is a set of books that would be worth checking and they still haven’t managed to claim a title in near on a quarter-century.

Rob Moodie and his cohorts painted themselves as the great protectors of the club but their actions did more harm than good and their confrontational and antagonistic approach had the very real possibility of killing the Melbourne Storm.

It remains to be seen if the four will continue down the legal path but they will no longer do so in the name of the Melbourne Storm.

There was very little new information released in the report outside of the increased scale of the rorting, the referring of the issue to police and the naming of names. Media reaction has been blown right out of proportion. The gravity of the cheating increased but the rorting was already so large that it essentially doesn’t matter.

Five members of the Storm management team were named as being either architects to the cheating or complicit with it. They were former chief executive Brian Waldron, his successor Matt Hansen, former recruitment officer Peter O’Sullivan, chief financial officer Paul Gregory and former chief financial officer Cameron Vale.

O’Sullivan is the only one of the five who remains in rugby league with O’Sullivan now at the Roosters as head of recruitment and retention. His possible role in the cheating is the most fascinating. O’Sullivan has been revered as a recruitment guru and lauded as the best scout in the game. While his ability to identify talent is seemingly top notch, it is not hard to make a name for yourself as a recruitment and retention manager when you are running the one club that doesn’t operate under the salary cap.

At this stage, O’Sullivan has not been found guilty of anything. He was named as being complicit in the Deloitte report, at least according to the edited version made public by News Limited, but even News supremo Peter Macourt admitted that O’Sullivan may not have been aware of the fraud but rather was just caught up in the system by signing players.

If O’Sullivan is found to have played any role in the cheating, however, he must be rubbed out of the NRL. David Gallop responded that dealing with O’Sullivan was a matter for the Roosters but that is not an adequate response by the NRL. The NRL has punished the Melbourne Storm as an entity but the League has done nothing to punish the agents of the club who designed the scam, committed the fraud and covered up their cheating. Any guilt on O’Sullivan’s part should also see the NRL open an investigation on the Roosters if, for no other reason, than to ease people’s fears that he infected that club.

O’Sullivan and the four others named could all face criminal charges if a police investigation finds similar evidence of fraudulent behaviour. That will be interesting. Those in the business of law are of the opinion that those involved could face between five and ten years behind bars for breaches of the Corporations Act if they are found guilty.

Thirteen players were also named as having received extra third-party payments though it was explicitly stated that the players were believed to be unaware of any cap breaches. While they have been cleared, no player cooperated with the investigation and as such their knowledge of the cheating remains blurred at best and a pall hangs heavy over their reputations.

The subtext of the press conference with both John Hartigan and David Gallop was fairly easy to read: the players refused to cooperate, silence on the players’ behalf protected the players, no hard evidence was found to suggest players knew of the cap rorting though circumstantial evidence certainly pointed towards it. At the end of the day, few parties saw any benefit in going after the players so the players got away with whatever knowledge they may have had under the guise of being given the benefit of the doubt.

From a rugby league perspective, the names of some of the players paid under the table were astonishing. Antonio Kaufusi? Seriously. Antonio Kaufusi. That lazy bastard isn’t worth a red cent yet the Storm were rorting the cap to keep him. Unbelievable. Those involved in the fraud should be charged with stupidity if nothing else. Kaufusi has spent more time on the bench in recent years than on the field and is going so bad he was released midseason by the last placed North Queensland Cowboys. Jesus, the bum wouldn’t get a run at the Queanbeyan Kangaroos this year.

The Cowboys did the right thing by dumping Antonio Kaufusi just as News did the right thing by firing the four independent directors. Thursday was not a terrible day for the Melbourne Storm. It was the dawn of a new day. It was a strong step forward for 2011 and beyond. News Limited have shown tremendous leadership and they have ensured the Storm’s future survival through it. Despite the doomsayers the Melbourne Storm will survive. They will be more than competitive in 2011. The Big Four will remain and the club has the young backs in Matt Duffie, Justin O’Neill and Gareth Widdop to score tries. The forward pack will be a little thin but the smart money will be on them making the finals next year.

The Melbourne Storm will rise from the ashes like a phoenix in the night. Or something like that anyway. They are too well coached and they have too many stars not to.

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