Australian sport is on the verge of an identity crisis. If results go a certain way this weekend then everything will be back to front, with Melbourne seizing the NRL title and Sydney winning the AFL.
Melburnians in particular have a magnificent chance to stick it to the rest of us on Sunday. The Storm are into their fifth NRL grand final of the century, and this time they got there fair and square.
That is, if having the freakish talents of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith together in one team is your idea of fair.
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So Melbourne and Manly have each been fined $50k for their little bout of fisticuffs on Friday night. Good. Maybe that’ll teach them both a little humility.
Fact is, the huge all-in at Brookvale Oval on Friday night had very little to do with the faint elbow nudge from the Storm’s Ryan Hinchcliffe which sparked it, and everything to do with the ill-feeling which has been simmering at both clubs for ages.
Both clubs consider themselves hard done by at the hands of the NRL – the Storm because of the salary cap scandal and the Eagles because of the Brett Stewart affair. With NRL CEO David Gallop on hand on Friday night, those pent-up frustrations were just too much to contain.
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Anyone with a few cells of sporting spirit in their body feel them tingling with rage at how Melbourne Storm officials conducted themselves in breaching the salary cap by an obscene $3.17 million.
When the Storm was steamrolling teams week after week in the NRL, it wasn’t just because they had good players, or were well coached. It was because they were being run by a small group of cheats with no respect for the simple principle of fair play.
This group of five managers identified at the centre of the rort indulged the worst of the morally bankrupt philosophy of winning at any cost that is increasingly a feature of professional sports, not just NRL.
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We are in the middle of a complex and highly charged barbeque-stopper involving the NRL salary cap and a good old-fashion cheating scandal.
They are, however, two completely separate issues, related by proximity but not causation. The salary cap issues can perhaps be understood in a simple four-step logic:
1. First, you have to decide where you stand on the principle of having a team equalisation system. If you don’t want a system, then you get teams that are so much better that they are in a different class to the other teams in the competition.
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Salary rorts in the NRL, Oscar winning performances on the soccer field, underage Olympic gymnasts and drug-cheats in the cycling peloton.
It’s all cheating and, as an elite athlete, I’m angry.
Not only at those who cheat, but also those around them who allow it to happen.
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Melbourne Storm’s salary cap scandal will go down as the best thing that has ever happened to the club.
Yes I know it has been stripped of two premierships ( I’ll get onto how ridiculous that is later) and I know the club has been fined, disgraced and denied the chance to win a premiership this year.
But the fact is this scandal will be the making of the Melbourne Storm in the AFL’s heartland.
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The Melbourne Storm Rugby League team has just been caught out paying topline players above the salary cap to win premierships. It is an unsavoury practice also adopted by elite schools in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne often with financial support from wealthy past students.
Some parents and headmasters associated with elite schools are worried by the continuing practice of sports scholarships. Leading schools are going all out to win in a range of sports including rugby, Aussie Rules, swimming, netball and rowing. Scholarships are awarded to talented sports performers. Schools seek high performing sports people from around Australia and for Rugby also from New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
The recipients of these scholarships are intended to influence the size, weight and skills in school sport and improve the school’s chances of winning.
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Greed. It’s a deadly sin. In Melbourne Storm’s case, it’s proven to be deadly.
The need to be the best has finally caught up with the Storm, a club which is suffering badly in the aftermath of some terrible decisions. Storm was stripped of its 2007 and 2009 premierships and its prize money plus all 2010 premiership points for breaching NRL salary cap rules.
The intensity of competition has meant people have resorted to cheating to get the winning edge. The excuse we hear is … “everyone’s doing it”.
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In our shock, it is so easy to think of yesterday as a black and terrible day for Australian sport.
In that we discovered one of our sporting teams cheated and deceived it was – but in time, yesterday will be remembered as the day Rugby League regained its soul.
It will be remembered as the day that David Gallop and the Board of the NRL decided they would rather fold their tent than tolerate cheating in their ranks. It’s the day when a major Australian sport said that the values on which it was founded was more important than the corporate support and the enterprises that fund it.
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Everyone’s blaming the suits and an assortment of guys with big fancy calculators for the revelations of the Melbourne Storm’s $1.7 million salary cap breaches, which has seen them stripped of two NRL premierships, three minor premierships and a bunch of prize money which they must repay.
And yes, clearly the chief bad guys here are the engineers of the intricate system of book-fudging which has deceived NRL auditors for the best part of five years. But this isn’t a problem like the Murray River, where the problem of the muddy, salty brine downstream can be pinned entirely on the greedy, negligent vandals upstream.
There are others who might consider themselves lucky not to be implicated, and there are broader issues at play which allowed these sneaks to think they could get away with their cheating shenanigans. Here’s a selection:
The players: David Gallop effectively exonerated the Storm players of any wrongdoing at yesterday’s presser.
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Rugby league champion team the Melbourne Storm is in disgrace.
Sports fans around Australia - regardless of what team or code they follow - will be aghast at the scale of corruption that seems to have taken hold of certain individuals in the club. Some $1.7 million was “misappropriated” in smaller amounts over five years.
The justice exacted by NRL management has been swift and terrible: the Storm has been stripped of two premierships, all of its points so far this season, and will accrue no further points this year.
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Parra can win this. All the predictions of Melbourne’s class overwhelming the baby Eels will count for nought when the smoke from the fireworks clears and the ref looks across to the timekeeper.
Grand Finals are the ultimate leveller and are often won by players you’ve never heard of, who get out in the middle and realise decades of training, injury and going home early comes down to this.
Here’s what I reckon the Eels need to do to take the silverware back to Church Street on Sunday night.
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