NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg explained the Parramatta Eels' salary cap penalties, saying he refused to make a "soul-destroying" decision on the club.
The Eels were docked the 12 points they won this season and fined heavily, although they can still move up the ladder once their squad is under the cap.
That punishment was compared to that of Melbourne Storm, who were stripped of two premierships and were not playing for points in 2010 among other penalties.
While that was under a different administration, Greenberg said he was unwilling to kill the Eels' hopes in the same way.
"I watched Melbourne Storm fans and players have to continue to play a season without the ability to accrue points," he told a news conference on Tuesday.
"I thought that was soul-destroying, both for the players and the fans.
"I've tried very hard to find a way forward here that Parramatta Eels can take a step forward."
NRL integrity unit chief Nick Weeks estimated that "about three million Australian dollars" had not been disclosed since 2013 in aggregate.
Greenberg said Eels players were distraught by the news when he faced them with Weeks earlier in the day.
"I think it would be fair to say they were shattered," he said.
"I really felt for players this morning and I was desperate to make sure Nick and I faced them face to face this morning and they found out this news from us directly.
"I feel really sorry for the players. This is a difficult time and they've worked really hard and played some great footy but I have a duty and the game has a duty to represent 16 clubs and 16 groups of fans and that's what I've done."