NRL and Bulldogs club traitor Sonny Bill Williams had already pre-arranged a legal defencee to the NRL’s expected legal challenge – the crux of his case set to take aim at the NRL and sporting salary cap, a legal defence that if successful could alter the fabric of Australia’s four football codes.
The NRL and Bulldogs set the wheels in motion for their court action against Sonny Bill Williams in NSW yesterday claiming they have an absolute “watertight” contract with the runaway player. But representatives for Sonny Bill Williams’s are expected to return serve with their belief that the salary cap quite simply a restraint of trade – with some legal top liners believing they have a chance of succeeding for SBW.
Williams at last check was in London, working through apparent visa problems which is holding up his relocation to France, but prior to flying out Sydney and leaving the Bulldogs in the lurch – SBW had arranged for a top line Sydney barrister to pre-prepare his defence for the expected repercussions that would eventually come through as expected from the NRL and Bulldogs officials.Â SBW and his legal eagles will challenge the actual NRL salary cap, a cap which put simply limits the amount of cash clubs can pay their players.
If Williams, 22, manages to win this legal round -Â it means the worst possible scenario for the NRL and also many other Australian sports, which all need salary caps to restrain player payments.
Former Bulldogs player Sonny Bill Williams has now been summonsed to a hearing of the NRL’s and Bulldogs’ request for an injunction to stop Williams taking the field in France or anywhere else in the world – provided lawyers are able to serve papers on him in person before 6pm on Sunday. Williams’s lawyers will argue that the Bulldogs can pay more than his existing $450,000-a-year contract but are stopped by the NRL rules that ensure salary mirroring at all NRL playing clubs. Williams apparently can earn around $3 million for 2 seasons with the French Rugby club Toulon.
If Australian courts find the New Zealand international is correct, it could open the door for even the AFL Players’ Association to fight the Australian rules salary cap, bringing a competitive balancing tool collapsing down across other football codes in this country.
The Australian Rugby Union also enforces “contracting protocols” which restrict payments four Super 14 clubs, a setup which is at ever higher risk because it was setup with no consultation of the ARU players’ association. Even Soccer’s A-League uses capping of clubs, with a special clause for signing marquee players for higher amounts.
Locally accredited player agent Steve Gillis confirmed that several more NRL stars could walk away, as this is a big test case for the code. “They’re looking for our very best players,” he said. “They’ll knock them off one by by one. I think you’ll find if there’s four or five this year. There could be up to thirty players walk out next year” If Sonny Bill Williams can get away with this without any penalty, I believe other players will copy him.”
The NRL CEO David Gallop and the Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg started the legal campaign and mentioned the possibility of Sonny Bill Williams’s assets being seized and the player possibly arrested and jailed.
“Ultimately, if these proceedings were to reach the end conclusion and he was to ignore them, then he’s facing criminal charges,” Mr Gallop said. “He’s liable to criminal charges which can involve arrest, can involve seizure of his assets in Australia.”
But their first challenge is to find him, with the Supreme Court rejecting their bid for “substituted service” and forcing lawyers to serve the documents to Williams in person. The club had asked the court to allow it to serve Khoder Nasser, who it had believed was Williams’s manager, or the Toulon club with the documents for Williams. But Justice Robert Austin, who said he had not heard Williams’s side of the story, rejected the application, arguing that informing the French club of the allegations could do “irreparable harm” to Williams.
Mr Gallop said: “The sanctity of his contract is one of the reasons why he has conducted himself in such a secretive and deceitful way. If his contract was not watertight, he could have gone to the Bulldogs and said, ‘I want out.’ The clear assumption is that he has received advice that his best chance is to secretly and furtively leave the country and avoid service of a summons.”
He admitted: “Of course the prospect of lucrative contracts being on offer overseas is a concern for us â€¦ It’s far more difficult to come up with a foolproof solution.”
The Supreme Court heard that Mr Nasser, who on Sunday told Channel Nine he was no longer Williams’s agent, had been involved in discussions with the club as late as Saturday. Even on the day Williams was leaving the country, Mr Nasser had assured the club that Williams would continue to play for the Bulldogs.
Arthur Moses, barrister for the Bulldogs, said Mr Nasser’s brother was travelling with Williams, and the boxer Anthony Mundine had taken him to the airport on Saturday. Mr Moses said the club had been deceived and hoodwinked by Mr Nasser.