The NRL is investigating whether Parramatta properly disclosed a third-party agreement for star forward Anthony Watmough in a development that could result in the club starting the season four points in arrears if the governing body rules it is a salary cap breach.
Fairfax Media can reveal Rugby League Central is examining the relationships between Parramatta, Watmough and two companies of which Stephen Moss - the son of Eels fan and former Macquarie Bank executive Bill Moss - is the sole director.
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Upon shifting from arch rivals Manly, Watmough entered into a third-party agreement with ScoreCube, described as "the ultimate live sports scores and statistics App". While the Eels declared that TPA to the NRL, it's believed they did not disclose that ScoreCube is a wholly owned subsidiary of BlackCitrus, an IT firm that has, and continues to, provide a range of services to the club. The Parramatta Leagues Club engaged BlackCitrus as one of the parties to investigate allegations of membership tampering and the Eels continue to use the firm for a range of services, including producing an app for its junior leagues.
Salary cap rules forbid any company involved in a commercial relationship with an NRL club to also serve as a TPA sponsor. The onus is on the club to declare any potential conflicts of interest to the NRL.
A spokesman for the NRL said a salary cap review is currently being undertaken with the Eels.
"We will not be commenting on the review until it is finalised," the spokesman said.
The Parramatta Eels declined to comment.
"All agreements between BlackCitrus and past or present NRL players have been met with approval from all necessary stakeholders," said Stephen Moss.
Watmough was trumpeted as one of the club's biggest signings when he joined Parramatta, although a wretched run with injuries limited his effectiveness in his first season in blue and gold. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Watmough, his management firm or BlackCitrus.
Should the NRL rule there is a conflict of interest, it could result in another breach of the salary cap. There could also be implications for any officials who knew, or should have known, about the potential conflicts of interest that weren't immediately reported to head office.
Parramatta is on notice after becoming the first club to overspend on all four salary caps in 2014. In that year alone, the top-tier NRL cap was breached on 17 occasions, while exemptions for players were often requested after they had already taken the field.
The Eels have already paid a hefty price, copping a $465,000 fine and warned they would lose four competition points if there were any other instances of non-compliance.
The club is still in the process of working through the 119 recommendations handed down during a governance review conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, part of the process of satisfying head office that proper systems and processes are now in place. Rugby League Central is demanding the club implement 52 of the reforms by February 29, but officials are pushing back on some of them. The most contentious revolves around the constitutional reform required to scrap the two-year election cycle for a triennial model, a move recommended to stymie the instability caused by the bitter battles for control of the boardroom.
Bill Moss had hoped to bring the big end of town to Parramatta through his brainchild 'The Premiership Club', aimed at boosting networking opportunities for the Eels. However, club officials chose to proceed with the initiative without him.
Parramatta last won a premiership in 1986 but there were high hopes for 2016 after an aggressive recruitment campaign.
Joining Watmough at the club is former Sea Eagles teammate Kieran Foran, who will wear the No.7 jersey made famous by the great Peter Sterling. Other signings include NSW Origin forward Beau Scott, former Blue Michael Gordon and, most recently, Roosters superstar Michael Jennings. However, the chances of reaching the finals for the first time since 2009 will be severely dented if the NRL were to start the Eels two wins behind the rest of their rivals.