When Wigan were fined and deducted points for salary cap breaches, it caught everyone out by surprise.
Salary cap breaches are rare, so much so that Wigan’s run-in with the law was just the second incident since 2007.
However, it’s most certainly not the first time a club has come unstuck by the rulings. In fact, Wigan’s latest misdemeanours are the tenth time a club has been punished for breaching the cap.
The system was first introduced in 1998. At the time clubs were only allowed to spend up to 50 per cent of their income on player wages. That changed in 2002, when clubs were limited to spending £1.8 million on wages or half their relevant income, whichever was the lower figure. The rules have been altered on several occasions since, such as the exemptions for marquee players, players coming from rugby union and so on.
Wakefield were the first club found guilty of breaking cap regulations in 2001. They were fined £15,000 and deducted two league points, however they managed to stay up after appealing the initial four-point deduction imposed.
Two years later, three clubs, St Helens, Hull and Halifax, were the next to be punished. Unlike Wakefield, the trio all failed on appeal. They all claimed they had inherited financial issues due to previous regimes, however, they were all unsuccessful in overturning their penalties. The punishments made no difference to the league table, however. St Helens finished fourth, nine points behind third-placed Wigan, while Hull did miss out on the play-offs by two points, but they did have an inferior points difference to the team above them, Warrington.
As for Halifax, they were relegated. Those two points would have done nothing to aid them, they finished 15 points off safety. All the deduction did was ensure they suffered the embarrassment of finishing on zero points, having managed to win just one game all season.
It wasn’t until 2006 when the next issues came as Bradford Bulls and, for the first time, Wigan, were docked two points apiece for breaking the cap by between two and five per cent.
Bradford’s deduction caused annoyance within the game. As, like St Helens in 2003, it came off the back of the Bulls winning the Grand Final. Like St Helens too, it ended up not affecting their league position that year.
The point deduction looked like it could be catastrophic for Wigan, as at the time they found themselves desperately fighting relegation. They ultimately steered clear of that.
However, it wasn’t long until the Warriors and the Bulls were in trouble again. A year later, in 2007, both clubs were punished. Wigan were slapped with a four-point after smashing the cap spend by over £220,000. As a result of their terrible start to the season before, they went about signing Stuart Fielden to help them avoid relegation, While he did that, his signing, among other business, resulted in their latest cap problems.
Bradford, meanwhile, were handed just a two-point deduction after going over the cap by around 4%, an issue that occurred due to confusion over a contract for Iestyn Harris.
It was nine years until a club found themselves in trouble again, but it proved to be the most severe.
In 2016, Salford were pummelled by a six-point deduction after breaching the cap. By this point, the governing body had drastically increased the sanctions, to the point a 20-point deduction could be handed out.
The consequences were almost fatal for Salford. Rather than finish in the top eight, they ended up in the Qualifiers and subsequently the Million Pound Game, only to avoid relegation thanks to one of the most incredible finishes to a game ever seen as Gareth O’Brien kicked a golden point drop goal to defeat Hull Kingston Rovers.
Wigan have now become the first team to be found guilty of cap breaches three times, although they will appeal.