The NRL brokered a groundbreaking memorandum of understanding with NSW Police just weeks before the latest revelations players from several clubs had received top-up payments outside the salary cap.
Fairfax Media understands a formal agreement between League Central and NSW Police was signed off only last month – the likes of which are rare for sporting bodies – to allow greater co-operation between the two organisations.
While sensitive information the NSW Police might gather in coercive examinations, which relate to the code, can’t be passed on to the NRL because it is a non-government body, the MoU between the pair is another small step for head office as it fights integrity battles on several fronts.
The NRL has launched its own investigation into allegations of widespread salary cap rorting and secret payments, as revealed by Fairfax Media. But it may do so without being privy to much of the information gathered by NSW Police.
The Manly Sea Eagles are suspected of breaching the NRL’s salary cap regulations with undisclosed payments to at least one player in previous seasons as NSW Police probe several clubs.
The Sea Eagles have denied any wrongdoing and the NRL is not in receipt of any salary cap violations at the club.
The NRL’s integrity unit and the NSW Police may now work in tandem on several projects thanks to its new MoU, which strengthens the bind between the two parties after allegations of match fixing rocked the game last year.
NSW Police established Strike Force Nuralda to investigate claims of gambling and match fixing on NRL matches, but no charges are yet to be laid.
It’s understood it is unlikely any criminal charges will be laid into the rigging of matches, but suspected cases of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering are all being probed.
The NRL-NSW Police MoU replicates the lead of racing bodies, which have formally established partnerships with crime-fighting organisations to help stamp out malpractice in their industry.
Racing NSW has an MoU with the Australian Crime Commission, which led to one of Australian racing’s, and the world’s, most celebrated jockeys James McDonald being rubbed out of the saddle for 18 months for having an interest in a $1000 bet on a horse he was riding in a race.
Jockeys are forbidden from betting under the Australian rules of racing and the probe into McDonald – who comfortably earned in excess of $1 million a year for his feats on horseback – was only triggered by the Crime Commission.
McDonald has escalated his appeal against the severity of the ban to the NSW Supreme Court.
The NRL has banned mobile phones from club dressing rooms an hour before kick-off, scrapped betting on Holden Cup matches and limited exotic markets available for NRL games as well as requiring clubs to name 21-man squads in Tuesday team lists as part of beefed-up integrity measures this year.
But there are still fears it is playing catch-up on the integrity front despite adding two new employees to its integrity unit this year, including an ex-employee of the NSW Crime Commission.
Whether the NRL should be able to access phone and bank records of players under an integrity cloud, and other privacy measures, is part of the current collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the Rugby League Players Association.
Despite a turbulent week, the Sea Eagles can potentially be just two points behind premiership pacesetters Melbourne with a victory against the desperate Panthers on Saturday night.
And coach Trent Barrett is adamant the adverse headlines won’t detract from his side’s stunning form.
“The players are really good with it,” Barrett said. “They know what their job is. They can’t control it. I can’t control it. The best thing I can do is shield them from it and focus them on what we’ve got to do [on Saturday] night.
“The players had a bit of a chuckle. They wanted to know who was getting [the money]. We’ve been through similar things last year and the group handled it well and nothing came of that either.”