THE NRL will investigate whether the New Zealand Warriors were guilty of breaking anti-tampering laws when poaching Canberra legend Ruben Wiki from the Raiders.
The new allegations will come as a further blow to the Warriors, who are reeling in the face of the salary cap breaches which the besieged Auckland club will attempt to explain in Sydney tomorrow.
The Sun-Herald understands Wiki and his management had an agreement with the Warriors before the anti-tampering deadline of June 30, 2004. Warriors insiders say the club started negotiating with Wiki, whose offer from NZ was so lucrative the Raiders didn't even bother trying to match it, in March of that year. The official announcement was made on July 9.
Asked if anti-tampering formed part of the NRL's inquiry into the Warriors, chief executive David Gallop said yesterday: "It's quite possible that it could become part of it. But as we've found in the past, it relies heavily on the players' existing club at the time [the Raiders] putting forward a complaint."
Warriors officials are set to meet Gallop tomorrow. They already face the loss of competition points and a huge fine for breaking the cap by at least $500,000. That amount could double if the club is found to have acted before the anti-tampering deadline.
Canberra general manager Don Furner said his club suspected Wiki was leaving well before his departure was announced and that the Raiders could not have matched the offer without breaking the cap or sacking players.
"We had a fair idea Ruben was going," Furner said. "We knew what we were up against. We realised we couldn't match what the Warriors were offering."
Asked whether the Raiders would make an official complaint to the NRL, Furner responded: "If the evidence is there you'd think that's all that's needed for some sort of action to be taken by the NRL, but we as a club don't have any evidence so we can't really speculate on what might happen yet."
Furner said everyone at the club was gutted when Wiki left.
"It was disappointing because he was one of our best ever," Furner said. "Nobody wanted to see him go. He should have finished his career here. And to be honest, he'd still be here if all things were on a level playing field.
"We didn't know what the deal was but we had a fair idea. Whether they [the Warriors] did it above or below board, we didn't know. We just knew we were out of the ball park. We had to let him go."
Gallop is expected to deliver the verdict on the Warriors by the end of the week. He has previously said the book would be thrown at clubs found guilty of cheating the cap and/or the anti-tampering laws.
Furner said Wiki did not have permission to negotiate with the Warriors. "Absolutely not. If they've done that, well, it's anti-tampering and all I can say is, 'wow'. Officially it was announced after the 30th of June, but I suppose that's the way these things always get announced."
Furner said the Raiders were hammered by club sponsors and supporters for failing to retain a legend of the club.
"We copped a lot of scrutiny and criticism," he said. "We started sounding like a broken record. All we could say was, 'Listen, we can't break the salary cap'. To a lot of people it seems like a mythical thing but at the end of the day it's like the tax office - the NRL comes down and does an audit. I said to Ruben, 'Good luck, you deserve it, you go with our blessing'. He never let us down while he was here. It's not his fault."
Furner said the Raiders made no formal attempt to match the Warriors' offer.
"We would have been way over the cap if we'd tried to," he said. "Or we would have needed to sack two or three players to make room for him. If it was only a matter of $30,000 or $40,000 to keep him, maybe there could have been a way. But it was beyond that."
NRL TO INVESTIGATE
A full-time development role for Wiki in retirement, which should be accountable under the salary cap
Free flights for Wiki's agent, Jim Banaghan
Free mobile phone contracts for selected players
A paid trip to Disneyland for a player and his family
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