On Thursday 19th September a joint pre-action litigation letter was sent by the Cougars and Eagles to the RFL setting out the basis of case against the RFL in the ineligible player crisis.
The letter outlines three potential breaches of the Operational Rules. The rules in question are B 3:17 relating to ineligible players, D 1:34 d relating to the validity of new evidence in appeals case and D 1:37 which involves the sending of minutes relating to disciplinary and appeals hearings to all affected parties within 48 hours of the hearing.
What is clear and beyond question is that the two players involved, Jacob Fairbank and Ben Crooks, were ineligible based on the written rules of the competition and that they had a profound impact on the game in question each one participated in whilst ineligible. Jacob scored the decisive try in the Batley win against the Eagles and Ben Crooks scored a late try against us to achieve a bonus point for Doncaster. The disciplinary panel found them ineligible and deducted 3 points which is the standard punishment for this type of transgression (i.e. one win) across rugby league and, generally, all other sports. With the lifting of the sanction by the appeals panel on 28th August and, currently, with the RFL refusing to do anything about this situation, both clubs had no option but to take legal action.
Over the last three weeks since the lifting of the 3 point deduction the situation has become stranger than ever. Many fans of rugby league have been sending through examples of when Super League teams have had their points deducted for fielding ineligible players, where teams have been thrown out of the Challenge Cup for the same offence and, only last week, Dudley Hill was docked 2 points and fined for the same offence in the NCL!
On top of this it looks like some clubs in the Kingstone Press Championship are simply ignoring any ineligibility rule due to this situation. We believe that North Wales Crusaders played an ineligible player against Leigh (it seens it was, amazingly, one of Leigh’s own players!) and North Wales Crusaders played an ineligible player against us at Cougar Park (Barrow Raiders alerted us one minute into that game!). Our Chairman warned the RFL Compliance department on 29th August, straight after the 3 points had been awarded back, as follows:
“My concern lies in the communication of the decision which seems to suggest that the two clubs had their points re-instated from the perspective that there had never been a points deduction when other clubs had breached the same or similar rule. Whereas I do not have any information to support whether the decision by the appeals panel was right or not (although on the face of it it seems a bizarre reason to overturn a previously considered decision by the disciplinary panel), it appears that, although the clubs broke the rule they have actually received no punishment for doing so?
Is this correct and, if so, does that mean that the rule in question that was broken, is redundant and certain clubs, with dual registration agreements, now have open season to play whomsoever they want at any game they choose?”
Our Chairman has not, to this date, received an answer to this question.
So, with Super League being deducted points for ineligible players and the NCL likewise, surely one of the questions is why is the Kingstone Press Championship competition receiving different treatment to the other competitions that are run and governed by the RFL?
This situation has left Keighley Cougars wrongly relegated but there are solutions. One potential solution, which has been put to the RFL, is as follows:
For the 2015 season only:
– Batley and Doncaster have their points deduction re-instated (so it eliminates the issue with Sheffield Eagles)
– Batley finish 10th but become the extra team in the Championship
– Batley’s prize money is at the discretion of the RFL
– As the extra team Batley can’t participate in the Magic Weekend but would receive one bonus point for non-participation
– Prior to the Super 8s when the Championship league is finalised the team at the bottom is automatically relegated
– The normal 2 are relegated when the Super 8s are finalised and 2 come up from League 1
On top of this we will need a statement from the RFL whether or not they are going to enforce Operational Rule B3:17 next season and in any future season.
This problem needs to be sorted out in a just and equitable manner for the good of our sport and sport generally, and quickly.