Wigan are to appeal against a two-point deduction for breaching Super League’s salary cap, claiming the punishment is disproportionate for a “marginal” offence.
The breach, which the Rugby Football League says occurred in 2017, was announced just over 24 hours before the Warriors begin the defence of the title they won for the fifth time at Old Trafford in October.
It means the reigning champions, now under new head coach Adrian Lam, will kick off the 2019 season at St Helens on Thursday night on minus two points.
Wigan have also been fined £5,000 – half of it suspended – after an independent tribunal found them guilty of breaches of the cap in relation to six separate payments, totalling £14,700.
The club claim the breach was due to an administrative error arising from six small invoices of between £2,000 and £3,000 for agents’ fees which were overlooked and meant they exceeded the £1.825million cap by 0.8 per cent.
Wigan point out that for over-spending by the same amount in 2006, St Helens were fined £18,000 with no points deduction.
Wariors chairman Ian Lenagan said: “This is not an integrity or dishonesty issue, purely an administrative error by a new financial team in an exceptionally busy and disruptive circumstance.
“This breach clearly did not affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2017 yet the immediate deduction of two points does affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2019.
“I take full responsibility for an admitted breach by Wigan and apologise unreservedly for the error and accept a fine is justified.
“However, in my experience of working in sport and sports governance, a points deduction is the last resort as a sanction for a significant level of breach.
“I am surprised that Wigan has been handed down a points-deduction sanction for such a marginal offence. Wigan will appeal against that aspect of the penalty.”
The RFL says the breaches occurred in late 2018, following the audit of the 2017 salary cap, in relation to a number of payments that were not declared, including the payment of agent fees and a flight allowance.
Wigan say the mistakes coincided with an unprecedented sequence of injuries which demand multiple salary cap administration changes and dispensation applications.
Wigan executive director Kris Radlinski said: “I apologise fully to everyone for the breach by Wigan but feel the points deduction is disproportionate to the level of breach.
“It has a significant effect on players, fans and the competitive balance of the season and is not consistent with the sanctions in other sports.”
Wigan are the first club to breach salary-cap regulations since April 2016, when Salford were deducted six points for irregularities going back to 2014, but they are previous offenders.
The club were docked two points and fined £50,000 in 2006 for exceeding the £1.6m cap by £80,000 in the previous season and 12 months later were deducted four points for over-spending by £222,000 in the 2006 season.