LEEDS RHINOS chief executive Gary Hetherington says he is “disappointed” at the RFL’s decision to fine the club £2,000 for a breach of operational rules.
The governing body handed down the punishment, half of which is suspended until the end of this season, following an investigation into the transfer of four players to Featherstone Rovers and two who joined Hunslet Hawks.
Rhinos were found guilty of breaching Operational Rule C1:1:6, which prevents clubs from allowing anyone who is not registered with them to train, do conditioning or play for them.
Hetherington said: “We are disappointed with the verdict of the RFL compliance process and in the way the byelaws have been interpreted in this case.
“We have complied fully with the investigation process. The byelaw is there to protect clubs from attempts to attract their contracted players to other clubs, but clearly, in this instance, this is not the case.
“We agreed to a request from both Hunslet and Featherstone to allow their players to train with us during the day as neither club has a full-time squad.
“There was never any intention for any of the six players mentioned to play for Leeds Rhinos in the 2015 season.
“All six are in part-time squads and were available for any and all commitments required by their club. In no way did any time spent with Leeds Rhinos impact on their time at their clubs.
“The arrangements were agreed by all parties involved and were solely designed for the players involved so they could improve their chances of a career in the game.”
The Leeds chief added: “As a club we make a commitment to our young players and their families that we will give them the best possible opportunity to forge a career in the game, whether with Leeds Rhinos or not, when they join us as a junior.
“Our sole motivation in this instance is to help these players continue their rugby league education and it seems unfair we have been punished for doing so.
“We will review our options and make a decision whether it is worth appealing the process, but it certainly seems a shame that, on the surface, it appears the career welfare of young English players is being prevented by the very body that should be helping them most.”
The players involved are Rovers’ Jordan Baldwinson, Thomas Minns, Mason Tonks and Alex Foster, plus James Duckworth and Luke Briscoe, of Hunslet.
All six signed for their new clubs on one-year deals, with the door left open for them to return to Leeds if they impress in the Kingstone Press Championship.
It is understood the RFL launched their investigation after the issue was raised by at least one other Kingstone Press Championship club.
The RFL say they reserve the right to attend Rhinos training sessions to ensure none of the six players have any involvement with the Super League club while they are under contract elsewhere.
The RFL confirmed they have cleared both Hunslet and Featherstone of any wrong-doing.
Hunslet chairman Neil Hampshire said: “I can’t deny this has been a concern the club could well have done without and has caused no little stress to us, as well as both Luke and James. The fact that they have continued to perform to such a high level for us throughout this period is testament to their professionalism and we are proud that they are with us.”
Rovers chief executive Pat Clusky said: “We were always confident we had followed the correct procedures, we did everything accordingly and that has been proven by the RFL.”