Top silk hired to defend club boss over cap rort claims

Josh Massoud

One of rugby league’s most celebrated barristers has been hired to defend former Manly boss Joe Kelly against charges of salary cap rorting.

Now CEO of the Roosters, Kelly is one of two club officials fighting to save their jobs over the long-running affair. The other is Neil Bare, who still works at the Sea Eagles as COO.

Both received breach notices in December, with the NRL intending to cancel their registrations.

But the outcome has become protracted, with the NRL granting Manly numerous time extensions to submit its defence. The Sea Eagles finally did so earlier this month - and elected to fight all the charges.

With the support of his current club, Kelly is doing likewise. 7th Tackle can reveal the Roosters have engaged Bernie Gross QC to represent him.

Gross QC has a long history of acting for league figures, stretching back as far as the Super League war more than two decades ago.

7th Tackle understands the charges against Manly relate to the club allegedly not conducting third party deals at arm’s length.

Kelly (L) with Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans. Pic: Getty

This could include setting-up third party deals for players, or underwriting them in the event they cannot be secured.

Third party sponsors are also prevented from having any formal ongoing relationship with the club - and the NRL has asked questions about the presence of sponsors at Sea Eagles functions and dressing rooms in recent seasons.

The NRL's Integrity unit has based the charges on emails and text messages downloaded from devices that were seized from Manly when the investigation began midway through last year.

The NRL acted on intelligence from the NSW Crime Commission, which set up a star chamber to interview dozens of officials and players about integrity breaches.

While no reliable evidence of match fixing was uncovered, the police emerged with concerns about salary cap compliance at Manly, and left the NRL to connect the dots.

The Integrity Unit has also interviewed Kelly. The Roosters believe their man has committed no wrongdoing under the game's third party rules, which NRL CEO Todd Greenberg this week admitted were due for an overhaul amid much confusion in clubland.

Late last year the NRL sought to introduce stricter guidelines, stating it would no longer register contracts in which clubs make "best endeavours" to secure third parties.