Billy Slater will be allowed to play his final NRL game after being found not guilty of a shoulder charge.
The retiring Melbourne Storm champion fronted the NRL judiciary on Tuesday night, where he was successful in beating a charge over a try-stopping play in his team’s win over Cronulla Sharks on Friday night.
Slater, 35, was charged for a grade one shoulder charge and would have missed the Melbourne Storm’s NRL grand final showdown against the Sydney Roosters on Sunday night if he was found guilty.
An anxious Billy Slater was joined by Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy at Tuesday night’s judiciary hearing
Billy Slater was charged over this shoulder charge on Cronulla Sharks winger Sosaia Feki
Judiciary panel members Sean Garlick, Bob Lindner and Mal Cochrane spent more than an hour deliberating their decision following a two hour hearing.
The fullback 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.
Slater, 35, 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.
Billy Slater may join a host of big names who have missed an NRL grand final due to suspension
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.’
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
The decision to charge Slater disappointed former NRL star Willie Mason who said he should be found not guilty.
‘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 night,’ he wrote after the game.
Issac Luke (2014) and Steve Price (2004) are among the big names in the modern era who have missed grand finals due to suspension.
Monday marked 10 years after Slater’s Melbourne 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 at the end of his fourth season as the NRL’s judiciary chairman.
Slater’s career is over after 318 NRL games, 31 Origin games for Queensland and 30 Tests for Australia
Slater (middle) looked very nervous during Tuesday night’s hearing
Sitting in on every hearing at Moore Park, Bellew does not vote with the panel of ex players but oversees judicial protocol in each case and gives judiciary members appropriate directions after each side presents their argument.
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 emotion around Slater and the fact it’s a grand final on the line needed to be completely irrelevant in their determination.
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.’
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
Billy Slater’s NRL career is over after this shoulder charge