'Wigan Warriors appeal points deduction - what happens next?' - comment

Wigan Warriors players went into their opening game knowing they were on -2 on the table
Wigan Warriors players went into their opening game knowing they were on -2 on the table

Wigan have made no secret of the fact they plan to appeal the decision to dock them two points.

Their punishment – for breaking the salary cap in 2017 – sparked a sideshow debate on the eve of the new season.

The dual-club branding outside the away dressing room

The dual-club branding outside the away dressing room

Chairman Ian Lenagan apologised, blaming an administrative error for not declaring around £14,000 of payments to agents. But he said he felt a deduction was unfair and revealed his intention to appeal the punishment which has left Wigan bottom of the table on -2 points.

The question now is: what happens next? The independent tribunal which made the ruling had until tomorrow to present its written judgement to both the club, and the RFL. From the date of receipt, Wigan then have 14 days to formally state their intention to appeal.

There are two processes available. They could stay within the rugby league structure, and go to a different independent operational rules panel, which would be again be chaired by a judge and feature two ex-players (but different people than the first tribunal).

Or, alternatively, they could go outside of rugby league and be heard by an external body, Sports Resolutions, which is a service for sport in the UK.

RFL officials are speaking to Wigan management about the next step.

Could the punishment be increased? Hypothetically, it seems yes, but such a scenario would seem highly unlikely given the scale of the breach. Only this week, Super League chief executive Robert Elstone sided with Wigan and described the points deduction as "perplexing".

Indeed, Wigan pointed out in their statement last week that when St Helens broke the cap by a similar amount in 2006, they were fined but had no points deduction. The club bosses also looked outside of Super League to other sports.

Lenagan also spoke about the punishment in terms of his “experience of working in sport and sports governance, a points deduction is the last resort as a sanction for a significant level of breach.”

Kris Radlinski said it was “not consistent with the sanctions in other sports.”

And this week, by coincidence, Harlequins RU were punished for over-spending on their cap by £12,400. They, too, were fined but had no points deduction.

Of course, there are differences.

The Premiership cap is around £7m – much higher than Super League’s £2m – and so the breach represents a much smaller percentage. And as far as I know, Quins haven’t broken the cap three times, like Wigan. And from what I've read, Quins reported the over-spend themselves - it wasn't picked up by auditors the following year.

But what I found interesting was the fact the fine (£6,200) was half the over-spend “in accordance with competition regulations”. They have clear guidelines to ensure the punishment fits the crime. Maybe something rugby league could consider down the track.

What a shame Anthony Gelling is not back in Super League. At the very least, he should be handed a marketing job when he hangs up his boots.

His video promoting Widnes’ opening game was 55 seconds of character, comedy and a call-to-arms – and then afterwards, footage of him watching the end of the game with a young fan was touching, and rightly received widespread attention.

Compare that to some other social media posts from Super League clubs: within the last few days we’ve had Hull KR showing video clips of brawls, Salford appealing for someone to lend them a free skip, and – best of all – Castleford appealing for the owner of a lost ferret to come forward!

Competition chief executive Elstone recently spoke about “ changing the way that Super League is presented and promoted” - a penny for his thoughts.

Ben Barba has been told he has no future in the NRL and it seems Super League, and the RFL, has closed the door on him returning to these shores, too.

He was sacked by North Queensland, without playing a game, for reportedly assaulting his partner in a casino.

Barba, of course, has previous. It goes without saying that I’m sure no-one would condone domestic abuse.

Many appear to have welcomed the decision to banish him from the sport. Some, including legend Martin Offiah, say he needs educating and support. "The guy obviously needs help," tweeted Offiah. "I hope he won’t just be left like bad meat."

Wherever you stand, whatever your stance, it raises the issue of who determines who deserves rehabilitation and a chance of redemption, and who doesn't?

This season, Scott Moore was welcomed back into the rugby league family after being freed from prison for assaulting police officers after a high-speed police chase.

Who has decided that rugby league is taking a zero tolerance for violence against women, but not a zero tolerance for violence against police officers?

I repeat, what Barba is alleged to have done is abhorrent. So, too, was the video of Brisbane prop Matthew Lodge invading a New York family's home, viciously attacking a defenceless man and hurling a wine bottle at police officers. Back then, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said he was "very comfortable" with his decision to let him continue playing, saying: "Rugby league is a sport that provides a second chance to people, it helps people grow up."

I understand that a line has to be drawn somewhere, especially after multiple 'second chances'.

The question is, where is the line drawn? And who is drawing it?

The opening round of fixtures certainly delivered, with a dynamite derby kicking off proceedings and London Broncos rounding it off with a stunning upset win over Wakefield.

The games felt quicker and sharper, in part because of the new ‘shot clock’. As for Wigan, Adrian Lam had said in advance Wigan won’t be defined by the opening few weeks. After so long playing a certain way, it was always going to be a work in progress.

But I saw enough from their performance at St Helens to think things will be okay when everything comes together.

I saw for the first time this week the dual-branding surrounding the dressing room area at the DW Stadium (pictured above).

It encompasses words and images from both clubs and is smart and stylish. The Heineken Lounge on the third floor is the same.

The idiot who daubed the letters ‘WRL’ over the Max Power artwork in Wigan town centre provided a reminder of the challenges the clubs face as they look to work closer together – some fans just aren’t for shifting.

But for many more, there is a pride in all things Wigan – even if it’s just in a ‘it isn’t my sport, but good luck to ‘em’ kind of way – and the decor inside the DW reflects that.