By GREG WHITE
AN amalgamation of two Grafton rugby league teams has sparked fears payments will spiral out of control and cause major damage to the stability of neighbouring Group 2, if not an all-out war, over players.
After winning their appeal to Country Rugby League against exclusion from the 2008 Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League (NRRRL) competition, South Grafton Rebels have formed an alliance with Grafton Rhinos, the venture launched to turn the warring Clarence-based factions into a one-team town.
But with Grafton Ghosts maintaining their incumbency, the newly cashed up Rhinos/Rebels have focused their sights on Group 2 with raids already relieving Woolgoolga of Xavier Sullivan and club legend, Lee Harvey.
The Seahorses also expect to lose Ryan Farrell to the Ghosts and fear that won't be the end of the buying spree.
After asking not to be named, one prominent Woolgoolga executive said the new Grafton club is openly boasting they have $150,000 to spend on ex-NRRRL players who crossed over to Group 2 when both Grafton clubs struck financial difficulties, plus any other players who look to have ability.
"Make no mistake they have masses of money at their disposal and I believe there'll be more where that came from if the glossy prospectus they're handing around is correct," the official said.
"No Group 2 club can hope to compete with that, nor should they be trying to as it'll send somebody broke quickly.
"What's infuriating is the way they're going about enticing players to desert their clubs."
The official claimed one player had been 'chased and chased until he was sick of it, then asked for a ridiculous amount of money to sign up'.
Apparently the ploy backfired.
"They wrote him out a cheque on the spot and got his signature on the clearance application," he said.
"Another bloke asked for an astronomical figure and the mob across the river got wind of it, upped their offer by another 50 per cent and threw in a car to travel back and forth between Woopi and Grafton.
"Do you need me to tell you how quickly he signed?"
Orara Valley chairman Glen Soper is prepared to go on record and expressed a growing disquiet the integrity of players will be compromised by wildcat promises of money.
While he believed no Axemen had as yet received inducements to leave he said he was ready to meet any challenge head on.
"The Rhinos have agreed to take over the debts of the Rebels and it was that inability to pay their bills that caused players to come to us two years ago looking for a game," he said.
"I believe Matt Donovan is one of a number of players still owed a substantial amount from his time with the Rebels and this new organisation should first be doing the honourable thing of paying the debts that are rightfully owed to former players and the business community.
"Des Hunt at Woolgoolga told me about what was going on with 'Dozer' (Xavier Sullivan) and the money that was owed to him from years ago and it's immoral for this new lot to be putting pressure on him or any other ex-player to come back if they want to be paid their dues.
"It's almost blackmail and it's time somebody spoke out and took them to task."
When first contacted, Coffs Harbour president Dion Dawes said he was unaware if any approaches had been made to any of his players.
But when informed of the name of a prominent first-grader who it's alleged had received a substantial offer to cross the border, Dawes admitted he was shaken by the news.
"We didn't expect this so there'll be no complacency from now on," he said.