Greenberg addressed 'shattered' Eels players
Tuesday morning's announcement that the Parramatta Eels would be docked 12 competition points, stripped of its Downer Auckland Nines trophy and fined up to $1million was bound to hit the club's playing group hard.
That's why NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and the NRL's Head of Integrity unit Nick Weeks made sure they were the ones to inform the players of the punishments they were preparing to hand down.
"I think it'd be fair to say they were shattered," a sympathetic Greenberg said of the players as he addressed the media.
"I really felt for the players this morning and I was desperate to make sure that Nick and I faced them face-to-face this morning and they found out this news from us directly.
"It would have been much easier to let someone at the club to do it or for them to read a media release, but that's not what we decided to.
"I feel really sorry for the players. This is a really difficult time. They've worked really hard… they've played some great footy. But I've got a duty and the game has a duty to represent 16 clubs and 16 groups of fans and that's what we've done today.
"We've been working through this over a period of time but I think in simple terms, whilst you're over the salary cap and you don't comply like your counterparts, you can't possibly accrue those points."
Greenberg said the Parramatta playing group had handled the news with class and dignity and backed Eels coach Brad Arthur to have them primed for the final 15 rounds of the NRL Telstra Premiership.
"I thought they were very respectful," Greenberg continued.
"I think Brad Arthur has done a wonderful job with that group of men and he's going to need to do a really good job in the coming weeks and months to keep that together. I'm sure he can do that."
The Eels will be given the opportunity to accrue points as soon as they make the necessary changes to comply with the 2016 salary cap, of which they are reportedly breaching in excess of $500,000.
That will be a challenge in itself given the alleged scale of breaches said to have taken place in five of the past six seasons.
"In monetary terms, we estimate the club made promises of remuneration that haven't been disclosed to the NRL at about $3 million since 2013 in aggregate," Mr Weeks said.
Greenberg was asked why the Eels had been given the opportunity to play for points from Round 10 onwards while the Melbourne Storm were given no such chance when their punishments for breaching the salary cap were handed down in 2010.
The Storm were stripped of all the competition points they had accrued in that season and were prevented from accumulating any more throughout the year, while the Bulldogs had 37 points taken off them in 2002 for what was described at the time as "systematic breaches of the salary cap".
"I didn't make the decision on the Melbourne Storm but I'm making the decision today," the NRL CEO said.
"When I watched Melbourne Storm fans and players have to continue to play a season without the ability to accrue points, I thought that was soul destroying – both for the players and the fans."
Despite the points penalty, the Eels are still a mathematical chance of making the finals – with the proviso they meet salary cap requirements – with the Parramatta club needing to win 12 of its remaining 15 fixtures (plus two byes) to finish on 28 competition points.
Given their impressive points differential – which will not be affected – and the fact that 28 points have been enough to make the finals every year since 2009, there is no denying the Eels can play in September if they can maintain their current form.
It's a scenario that Greenberg would applaud if achieved, encouraging all Eels fans to "get in behind your team" during this challenging period.
"If Parramatta win every game under the salary cap I'll be very happy."