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Smith’s defence heads Slater’s judiciary

Smith’s defence heads Slater’s judiciary

Ten years ago on Monday, Sydney lawyer Geoff Bellew unsuccessfully attempted to free Cameron Smith to play in Melbourne’s run to the 2008 NRL grand final.

Come Tuesday night, he’ll be the man overseeing Billy Slater’s hearing for a shoulder charge that threatens to end his NRL career a week early and deny him a fairytale grand final with the Storm.

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.

Sitting in on every hearing at Moore Park, Bellew does not vote with the panel of ex players but instead oversees judicial protocol in each case and gives judiciary members appropriate directions after each side presents their argument.

Crucially, on Tuesday night, he will remind panel members of the key determining indicators which make up a shoulder charge and summarise both sides’ cases.

Bellew’s presence is 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.

The NRL wouldn’t confirm the make up of Bellew’s panel of past players on Monday, but Slater’s former teammate Dallas Johnson is one of a group of men who have been used this year and are available to the league.

Head office has also been forced to call in counsel Anthony Lo Surdo to mount their argument, with usual representative Peter McGrath away on holidays.

Lo Surdo’s last high-profile case was a five-match ban handed down to Canberra’s Sia Soliola last year, ironically for a high tackle on Slater.

And Soliola’s lawyer that night was none other than Nick Ghabar, the man trusted by the Storm to defend their star fullback come Tuesday night.

Ghabar was in Melbourne on Monday working with the Storm and his presence will be crucial to Slater.

He was the last lawyer to save a player from missing a grand final – in the retiring Justin Hodges in 2015 at Brisbane – and he’s become known as one of the best defence counsels in the NRL in recent years.

His list of accomplishments include successfully defending Sam Burgess and Jack Wighton from shoulder charge bans in recent years, and was an obvious choice for the Storm.

But if he can free Slater on Tuesday night, it’d likely be considered his most important NRL win of all.


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