The devastated family of a footy player who died after being hit by a shoulder charge during a game have slammed the decision to allow NRL legend Billy Slater to play in the Grand Final.
Slater, 35, escaped a suspension for his hit on Sosaia Feki during the Melbourne Storm’s win over the Cronulla Sharks on Friday night. The retiring star would have missed the Grand Final against the Sydney Roosters on Sunday if he was found guilty.
The brother of James Ackerman – a league player who was killed by a shoulder charge while playing for the Sunshine Coast in 2015 – shared a heartbreaking photo of his dying sibling in hospital, and criticised the decision to allow Slater to play.
‘The ”shoulder charge” door was opened back up tonight and this helpless guy was insulted,’ Andrew Ackerman posted to Facebook.
‘Rugby league is just a game, life is not.’
After the verdict was delivered on Tuesday night, fans, commentators and players took to social media to share their thoughts on Slater’s non-suspension.
The devastated family of a footy player who died after being hit by a shoulder charge during a game have slammed the decision to allow NRL legend Billy Slater to play in the grand final
The brother of James Ackerman – a footy player who was killed by a shoulder charge while playing for the Sunshine Coast in 2015 – shared a heartbreaking photo of his dying sibling in hospital
‘The ”shoulder charge” door was opened back up tonight and this helpless guy was insulted,’ Andrew Ackerman posted to Facebook
Former AFL star Dane Swan said the judiciary’s decision was ‘awesome news’
Former AFL star Dane Swan said the judiciary’s decision was ‘awesome news’.
‘Can’t wait to hopefully watch this legend go out with a flag,’ Swan said.
Rugby league legend Willie Mason said the NRL grand final needed its ‘best players on the biggest arena’.
‘No bigger than the grand final. They need to sort out a fine system instead of suspension. And if you’ve never played you’ll never understand,’ Mason said.
Parramatta Eels star Jarryd Hayne said it was ‘good to see Billy Slater will play’.
‘At the end of the day it’s a grand final,’ Hayne said.
One fan said concern about Slater’s tackle was an ‘overreaction’.
‘There was nothing wrong with Billy Slater(‘s) tackle, the other player wasn’t even hurt,’ she said.
One fan said concern about Slater’s tackle was an ‘overreaction’
Billy Slater was found not guilty over this shoulder charge on Cronulla Sharks winger Sosaia Feki
Another fan said Slater escaping a ban was ‘the biggest load of bulls**t I’ve seen in the NRL’.
Storm chief executive David Donaghy shared a photo of Slater preparing his defence on the plane before the hearing.
‘As meticulous in his preparation for tonight as he is for games. Was key to the outcome. Lots of people played key roles in #freebilly – thank you, heading back home now then eyes on the prize this Sunday,’ Donaghy said.
Even a one-match suspension would have brought Slater’s 15-year, 318-game career to an abrupt end.
Storm chief executive David Donaghy shared a photo of Slater preparing his defence on the plane before the hearing
Parramatta Eels star Jarryd Hayne said it was ‘good to see Billy Slater will play’
A relieved Billy Slater (left) leaves NRL headquarters after being cleared to play in Sunday’s NRL grand final
Judiciary panel members Sean Garlick, Bob Lindner and Mal Cochrane spent almost an hour deliberating their decision following a hearing that lasted more than 90 minutes.
‘I’d just like to thank the judiciary members for a fair hearing,’ a relieved Slater told reporters after the verdict.
‘It was important for me tonight to get my point across, and what my intentions were in this incident.
‘My preparations for the game starts now, I am grateful for all the support the club has shown me.’
‘I’d also like to thank Nick (Ghabar), my lawyer, and the club, the Melbourne Storm. They’ve really helped me over the last four days to put this case together, so now it’s time to think about the grand final.’
Slater then left NRL headquarters without answering any questions from the media.
Slater denied Cronulla Sharks winger Sosaia Feki a try in the corner in the 13th minute of play with a brutal shoulder charge on Friday night’s preliminary final.
Billy Slater (pictured) avoided joining a host of big names who have missed an NRL grand final due to suspension
Lawyer Nick Ghabar, Billy Slater and Craig Bellamy pleaded Slater’s case to the NRL judiciary panel, which consisted of Sean Garlick, Bob Lindner and Mal Cochrane
He was immediately penalised for the shot which saw him rush in from the blindside and knock Feki over the sideline.
Feki was forced from the field with a shoulder injury shortly afterwards and didn’t return.
Slater told the judiciary hearing he was attempting to wrap his arms around Feki while making the tackle.
‘The whole time my intention was to make a tackle. It happens earlier than I expected to do but I’m still attempting to wrap my right arm. Even with my left arm is trying to wrap underneath. I was still trying to get my body in a position to get between the ball and the try line,’ he told the panel on Tuesday night.
‘I’ve got a duty to make a tackle, the duty of care is to myself and player Feki. To ensure I don’t make a high tackle is a duty to Feki. I feel the contact that was made was unavoidable once he veered back in. I think the decisions I made ensured the safest possible contact was made.’
The decision to charge Slater disappointed former NRL star Willie Mason, who said he should be found not guilty.
Slater’s career will end on Sunday after 319 NRL games, 31 Origin games for Queensland and 30 Tests for Australia
Slater (middle) looked very nervous during Tuesday night’s hearing
‘Just as a fan I hope Billy Slater plays this weekend..fans pay big money to watch the best players on the biggest arena! No bigger than the grand final. They need to sort out a fine system instead of suspension.. and if you’ve never played you’ll never understand,’ he tweeted on Tuesday.
Tuesday night’s decision divided rugby league fans on social media.
‘When the next player is injured because they were hit with a shoulder charge will you feel guilty for bending the rules and allowing this precedent to bend the rules,’ one fan commented.
Another added: ‘One rule for Slater and another for others.’
But some fans were pleased that Slater was cleared.
‘It’s his last game, other players have been let off for much worse, and if you’re in the grand final, you want the best team in the field,’ one fan commented.
Issac Luke (2014) and Steve Price (2004) are among the big names from the modern era who have missed grand finals due to suspension.
Monday marked 10 years after Slater’s club teammate and captain Cameron Smith was controversially rubbed out of the 2008 grand final for a grapple tackle in a final against the Brisbane Broncos.
Sydney lawyer Geoff Bellew unsuccessfully argued Smith’s case to play in 2008 NRL grand final, where Storm were then thrashed 40-0 by the Manly Sea Eagles.
In a strange twist of fate, Bellew – who has since become a NSW Supreme Court Judge – is now the NRL’s judiciary chairman.
Panel members Sean Garlick, Bob Lindner and Mal Cochrane were reminded the emotion around Slater and the fact it’s a grand final needed to be irrelevant in their decision
An anxious Billy Slater was joined by Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy at Tuesday night’s judiciary hearing
Bellew’s presence was one of several quirky coincidences in what is arguably the most high-profile case at Moore Park since Smith’s hearing 10 years and one day ago.
Bellew reminded the panel members that the outcome should be ‘free of emotion or sympathy’, and ignore fact the next game ‘happens to be a grand final’.
Slater didn’t think there was any malice in the tackle after Friday night’s match
‘I was coming across at speed and actually thought Feki was going to step back on the inside. It was a collision in the end,’ an emotional Slater told Channel Nine post-match
‘It was one of those things where both players were running at speed to get to a position. It would have been an awkward place to place my head if I had to duck down.’
Billy Slater’s NRL career has one more game left after he was found not guilty of this shoulder charge