09 April 2006 IT WAS back in 1990 when I first signed to play rugby league with the Manly Sea Eagles. They gave me $35,000 for that first season, plus $2000 for a win or a draw, and $1500 for a loss. It was far from the biggest money going around. But within two months, they had sorted me a job with a brewery, which paid $45,000 a year, plus a free car and gas. I would go into work and read the paper, or even just leave the car out front with the engine running, walk through saying gidday to everyone, and head out the fire escape. None of that was on the salary cap, and I wasn't the only one getting a deal like that. That's just how far back salary cap rorts go in rugby league. Everyone in the game knows that the salary cap is a farce, and always has been. Now it's time the NRL admitted it. I can assure you, from what I know and what I have seen, the salary cap is being rorted everywhere. The good clubs get away with it, and the not-so-good clubs don't. And it doesn't matter what level you set the cap at -even if it was $5m, big clubs would be trying to break it. It's not that hard to do. I know one player who wanted to receive more money, but his club couldn't fit it under the cap. So he sold his apartment to a club official for $200,000 over the market value. Or another who sold his car, worth $15,000, to a club benefactor for $50,000 - it goes on all the time. When I was playing, you would see top players at other clubs listed as earning $150,000 a season. By the time Super League came along, I was on $650,000-$700,000 a year, so can you honestly say these guys, all internationals, were on that much less? But good luck to the smart clubs: as a player, I would want to go to the clubs with a smart front office rather than a club that says they are going to be squeaky-clean and start the season off four points behind the race. As a player, I would be gutted if that happened - I'd be walking past management shaking my head. Policing the salary cap is just too hard. Both the clubs who've been caught for major breaches -the Bulldogs in 2003 and the Warriors this year - were caught by whistleblowers. With all due respect to the NRL, they have got one guy -salary cap auditor Ian Schubert -in charge of making sure 15 clubs keep to the salary cap. But that's a full-time job for 15 people. The NRL's argument is that the salary cap keeps the competition level, but I don't believe it. If you have smart enough people in your front office, they will rally support, bring in sponsors and get individuals who want to see the club go well to stump up money. I'm not saying it's easy, but that's how it happens. And why should the clubs that are good suffer because the clubs who aren't good can't keep up? It's a reward for mediocrity. The players' association has threatened to go to court to challenge the salary cap, and I think that they have to. Manly centre Terry Hill did the same thing in the 1990s when he took the ARL to court over the draft system, and won. This is the same - it's restricting the players and their right to earn as much as they are able. When players these days have a maximum shelf life of 10 years, I don't see how it's fair to tell them there's a limit on their earnings when they are generating millions of dollars for the NRL, sponsors and television. As a player, you want to make as much money as you can, as quickly as you can, because out in the real world, where you're unqualified, you're lucky if you'll make 15 bucks an hour. You have to make hay while the sun shines.