THE timing appears purely coincidental, but Brisbane Broncos teammates Tevita Pangai Jnr and Darius Boyd have inadvertently combined this week to highlight the seemingly endless battle the NRL faces to police the salary cap.
Pangai, facing the prospect of having his lucrative contract with Brisbane terminated after admitting to repeated breaches of the COVID-19 biosecurity protocols, has apparently doubled down by complaining to the NRL integrity unit that the club owes him up to $100,000 for third-party deals he says have not been honoured.
This sparked a flurry of commentary because (a) third-party sponsorships are supposed to be registered with the salary-cap auditors and (b) clubs are not allowed to guarantee them.
Many immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Broncos had been flouting the rules, especially since Pangai reportedly knocked back an $800,000 offer from the Warriors last season to re-sign with Brisbane for a considerably smaller sum.
But Broncos chairman Karl Morris told Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper: "There is no salary cap breach whatsoever.
"There has been a mix-up in Tevita's mind. He raised something about a payment [not being paid] and when I investigated it, it was the NRL marquee marketing fee, which has nothing to do with us.
"That [NRL ambassadorship] got withdrawn because of the COVID crisis. We are not concerned one bit.
"We are a publicly listed company with obligations to ASIC. We have to be paranoid about these issues.
"It's brought up regularly at board meetings to make sure we are completely and utterly compliant with all NRL salary cap matters."
Fair enough. I'd be more inclined to believe that version of events than the one being spruiked by a footballer whose grasp of common sense would appear as flimsy as the Broncos' defence this season.
The situation regarding Boyd has nothing to do with Brisbane but instead relates to matters closer to this neck of the woods more than eight years ago.
In his newly released autobiography, Battling the Blues, the former Queensland Origin and Kangaroos star recounts his first season at the Knights in 2012, when the club had recently been privatised by tempestuous tycoon Nathan Tinkler.
Boyd recalled that Tinkler "seemed a nice guy on first impressions", but he quickly came to revise that opinion, reliving several unsavoury incidents involving the billionaire-turned-bankrupt.
In particular, he made mention of a game in Brisbane when the Knights were thrashed 50-24 and Tinkler "stormed into the dressing room and started shouting at players" during the half-time break.
On another occasion, after Boyd was absent from an official function, he said Tinkler left him an abusive voicemail saying: "I will crush you. You are nothing."
When Tinkler was finally ousted as Knights owner by NRL management, with the club effectively insolvent, Boyd declared it "was a good outcome for everyone".
That's a square-up years in the making, but I digress.
The anecdotes that really caught my attention were of a financial nature.
Boyd recalled how, after the opening match of the Tinkler-Wayne Bennett era, a 15-14 loss to St George Illawarra in golden point: "Nathan produced a wad of $2000 cash from his pocket to present to our player of the match."
He said that Tinkler "promised us that win, lose or draw, and whether we played home or away, the player of the match would receive $2000 from him".
I heard years ago from a reliable source about a $2000 payment to Newcastle's "players' player" after the loss to the Dragons. I didn't realise it was an ongoing thing. Boyd reckons the weekly bonuses continued until a round-six loss to Parramatta and then ended without notice, the first sign, he said, that "something was wrong within the Tinkler empire".
My question is whether the then Knights officials declared those five $2000 cash payments to the NRL so that they could count towards the salary cap?
Equally intriguing is Boyd's claim in his book that he was "owed money by the Knights" in 2012 and 2013.
"I had been paid my base wage each month along with the rest of my teammates but the other contract guarantees had not eventuated," he wrote, later adding that the shortfall was rectified when he was released by the Knights at the end of 2014.
At the time, it was widely reported - but never confirmed by any party - that Boyd was $200,000 out of pocket after a third-party sponsorship fell through.
But as I wrote in September, 2014: "Why would a player of Boyd's stature have accepted a contract with Newcastle in 2011 if he thought a third of his salary could be declared null and void at any instant?
"It would seem strange that he would sign for a guaranteed $400,000, in the hope that he could be 'topped up' to his true market value by an unspecified and unsecured sponsorship.
"Why would any top-end player take such a gamble?"
It is, of course, ancient history now, and if the NRL ever got to the bottom of the mystery when they assumed ownership of the Knights after turfing Tinkler, they didn't release it for public consumption.
I'm sure you can draw your own conclusions.
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