West Coast Fever have been fined $300,000 and stripped of 12 competition points next season for serious and deliberate salary cap breaches in the Super Netball competition.
On a dark day for Australian netball, it was revealed the Fever made payments of $127,954 above the cap in 2018 and $168,659 over the salary ceiling in 2019.
That equates to 19.7 per cent over the limit in 2018, when they reached their maiden grand final, and 25.3 per cent over in 2019 when they finished sixth.
Half of the $300,000 fine has been suspended for three years.
The breaches involved undisclosed contracts which committed to payments above the total player payment cap.
The matter first came to light in June this year when Netball Australia contacted the Fever about several worrying but minor irregularities that had come to their attention.
Fever co-operated with the league to conduct an in-depth investigation, which discovered the severity of the rorting - the worst ever uncovered in Australian netball.
Netball Australia found no evidence that any players were aware of the breaches and no current coaches were involved in signing players or organising payments through undisclosed contracts.
West Coast Fever managing director Simon Taylor and president Deane Pieters quit shortly after the Fever's grand final loss to Melbourne Vixens in October.
The Fever are yet to publicly name the people responsible for the rorting, with Netball WA acting chief executive Garry Chandler saying the matter was confidential.
Earlier this year, the Adelaide Thunderbirds were fined $100,000 - of which $90,000 was suspended - for breaching the 2019 total player payments cap by $22,698.
But Super Netball League Commission chair Marina Go said Fever's breaches were much more serious.
"Adelaide and Perth were two very different situations," Go said.
"The reason why this one is particularly harsh is because it was over a number of seasons, it was significant, and so there was definitely some deliberate action here."
Go said there was no reason to believe any other clubs had committed breaches.
Fever will now start the 2021 season on negative 12 points, meaning they will need to win three games just to break even again.
West Coast coach Stacey Marinkovich, who is also head coach of the national team, was devastated after finding out about the breaches and subsequent penalties.
"As a club, we take full responsibility for this outcome," said Netball WA president Grant Robinson, who took over from Pieters in April.
"We have let down our members, staff, players, partners and fans.
"We are absolutely committed to ensuring this never happens again within our club, and to that end we have already commenced a significant review of our structure."
Go felt the punishment was adequate, despite other sports stripping teams of more competition points and fining them higher amounts for similar breaches.
"It might feel light compared to other sports, but compared to our sport, this is the toughest penalty we have ever served up," she said.
The Fever were found to be compliant in 2020, when they made their second grand final.
Australian Associated Press