Castleford Tigers are to receive more than £200,000 compensation and £100,000 legal costs following record-breaking winger Denny Solomona’s decision to quit the sport and sign for Sale Sharks.
Tigers say they are “pleased” the long running dispute with Solomona, rugby union club Sale and agent Andrew Clark has been settled.
The case had been due to go to trial later this year, but Tigers say the “litigation is concluded” following a joint offer made by the defendants.
Solomona joined Sale last year, saying he had retired from rugby league, despite being contracted to Castleford until the end of 2018, and he made his England debut, scoring the winning try against Argentina last weekend.
A detailed statement put out by the Tigers said: “Castleford Tigers is pleased to announce that following a joint offer made by the Defendants, the dispute which was heading for trial later in the year, has now settled and the litigation is concluded.
“Denny Solomona joined Castleford Tigers for the start of the 2014 season. His contract was extended and in November 2015 re-signed with the club for seasons 2016, 2017 and 2018. As has been previously documented, Mr Solomona performed to an exceptional standard for the club and he became one of the outstanding players in rugby league breaking the Super League try record last season.
“This time last year Castleford Tigers entered into negotiations to improve Solomona’s contract in recognition of his achievements. The club’s intention all along was to keep Solomona and on 12 August 2016 Castleford Tigers made it clear through a press statement that it had no intention to sell Solomona despite press speculation. It was made unequivocally clear that Solomona was signed in until the end of the 2018 season.
“Notwithstanding Solomona’s knowledge of the contract and the statements made, he made it clear that he was agitating for a move and advised the club through his agent that Sale sharks were interested in recruiting the player. On 17 August 2016, a conversation took place over the telephone between Steve Gill, the Chief Executive of Castleford Tigers, and Steve Diamond, Director of Rugby at Sale that Solomona was not for sale and had two years left to run under his contract.
“On 19 August 2016, Sale made a formal offer for Solomona which was rejected three days later. Solomona made it clear that he would only stay at Castleford Tigers if he was paid a salary effectively four times more than what he was currently earning.
“On 29 August 2016, Sale withdrew their previous offer and made a new offer of £50,000.00 compensation/transfer fee on the basis that Solomona could repudiate his contract and walk away from Castleford Tigers. In early September 2016, Solomona and his agent were reminded of the player’s contractual obligations and that he could not just walk away from his contract. Sale were also put on notice and warned that they should not induce the player to breach his contract. Castleford Tigers sought assurances that Sale should stay well away and avoid inducing a breach. Sale refused to provide the undertakings as requested.
At the same time and unbeknown to Castleford Tigers, Solomona had completed Heads of Agreement to sign a full contract to commence on the date of a UK Visa being issued. On 23 September 2016, Solomona signed his full contract with Sale notwithstanding the fact that he was still playing for Castleford Tigers in season 2016 and scoring tries. On 27 September 2016, Solomona purported to resign his employment with immediate effect. That resignation was not accepted by Castleford Tigers.
“Thereafter, on 30 September 2016, Steve Diamond asked Steve Gill if he wished to meet to discuss Solomona. This offer was rejected with the clearest message that the player was not available for transfer. There was nothing to discuss and the expectation was that the player would fulfil his remaining obligations until his contract expired on 30 November 2018.
“As has been previously documented Solomona failed to turn up for pre-season training on 7 November 2016. Thereafter, the club were left with no alternative other than to terminate Solomona’s contract especially when they learnt that Solomona was training with Sale from at least 22 November 2016 if not before.
“In order to try and avert litigation Castleford Tigers tried to resolve their differences by engaging in pre-action protocol.
At a press conference on 13 December 2016, Steve Diamond stated amongst other things that he did not think that Sale had done anything wrong and that players have agents and they put players on the marketplace and that the situation had been blown out of all proportion with these things happening in sport every week where players move around.
“Solomona through his lawyers asserted that he was not in a position to respond to the pre-action correspondence with similar responses from Sale and Mr Clarke.
“With a heavy heart and with no other option Castleford Tigers brought proceedings in the High Court in Leeds to compensate for its loss.
“Castleford Tigers were prepared to proceed all the way through to trial. It had a strong belief in its own claims against the Defendants.
“However, the Defendants did make an offer to pay compensation and to submit to a costs order effectively meaning that Castleford Tigers will receive a substantial contribution to their costs leaving the Defendants to pay their own legal fees.
“After careful consideration a decision was made to accept the proposal of compensation of a figure in excess of £200,000.00. The likely costs to be recovered in addition are approximately £100,000.00.
“Castleford Tigers believe that the correct decision was made to bring this matter to a conclusion now. It not only means that they are in pocket for a substantial sum of money but the case has clearly proved that it is impermissible for a player to walk out on his contract without suffering a harsh financial penalty.
“Cross code transfers do take place but in 99% of cases compensation fees are agreed when the player is in contract. However, on this occasion Solomona believed that he could walk out on his contract and that his new employer would have no liability to pay any form of transfer fee. That myth has been dispelled and Castleford Tigers believe that contracts are sacrosanct and have to be mutually honoured.”
Chief executive Steve Gill said: “This has been a difficult few months for the club. It would have been very easy to walk away and put all of this down to experience but Castleford Tigers is not a selling club anymore. We have demonstrated over the last three years that the club is ambitious. We want to maintain our existing squad and continue to improve.
“The approach from Sale was not welcome. We made our position clear but we have no control over the fact that Solomona was going to walk out on his contract. We believe lessons have now been learnt and we hope if this was to happen again rugby union clubs would respect the fact that the league players who are under contract cannot be enticed away without fear of financial penalties.
“Sale, Solomona and Mr Clarke have had ample opportunities over the last few months to apologise for their actions. Neither has done so which we find disappointing as well as disrespectful for the shabby way this transfer was conducted.
“However, we have to move on and the compensation payment is now likely to be used for team strengthening to help us achieve our ambitions.
“We wish to thank our legal team of Richard Cramer and Martin Williams of FrontRow Legal, and Nick Randall QC for their guidance and assistance in achieving this successful outcome.
“Now that the matter has come to an end we can focus our energies on continue to develop the club both on and off the field.”
Richard Cramer solicitor for Castleford Tigers said, “This has proved to be an interesting case.
“Castleford throughout the whole process have endeavoured to maintain the highest level of professionalism in the face of the challenges of losing (unexpectedly) one of their top players broke the Super League try scoring record last season and having to take proactive steps to seek redress and discover the truth what happened given the unprecedented and unfortunate set of circumstances they faced.
“There has been various commentaries about this being the new Bosman Case but given the overall outcome any idea of the flood gates opening have been well and truly shut.
“The legal process has proved that players’ contracts are watertight and if rugby union clubs do wish to recruit rugby league contracted players then there is a price to pay.
“This case has proved that rugby union clubs cannot without penalty just recruit a retired rugby league player who has walked out on his contract. The message is that negotiations have to be conducted through the front door.”
The Rugby Football League described the case as “a matter of profound importance for sport” and praised Castleford for their “dignity, integrity and tenacity”.
RFL chief executive Nigel Wood said: “They have done the whole of sport a great service.
“It is incredibly regrettable that this situation ever arose and we believe that national governing bodies from all sports and leagues must work together to ensure that clubs and players are protected and contracts are respected by all concerned.”