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#FreeBilly! Storm the courts if you must, Melbourne

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Expert
23rd September, 2018
137
3061 Reads

The idea of suspending Billy Slater – the best fullback I’ve ever seen – for the manner of his contact on Sosaia Feki is totally outrageous to me.

If Slater watches this weekend’s grand final from the stands it will be a travesty.

However, if all of the methods and mechanisms that the NRL have at their disposal fail to recognise that truth and enforce a suspension, the Storm will still have an option open to them and I think they should use it. They must appeal the matter to the Supreme Court on the grounds of procedural unfairness.

Hopefully it won’t need to come to that. Hopefully good sense will prevail.

However, the NRL’s Match Review Committee has already failed the first opportunity to make this the non issue it should be by laying a charge for a grade one shoulder charge.

They so easily could have found an excuse not to. There is clear precedent for that option too. After Round 26 2016 the MRC didn’t charge Michael Ennis for a blatant, late and head-on shoulder charge on a Storm player, using the bizarre premise that his arm was away from his body.

It was totally erroneous ruling. But the point is that they made the ruling and it allowed Ennis to play in the first round of the finals.

Ennis played no small part in his side’s 16-14 win at Canberra Stadium, with his ‘Viking Mock’ of the Raiders fans being an enduring image from the aftermath of the game.

That was such a smaller stage and occasion – and Ennis such a smaller figure of importance in the game – than the unthinkable incidence of the legendary Billy Slater missing out on playing his final match in a grand final.

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Yet the MRC found a way for Ennis to answer no charge, but not for Slater.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be calling for this sort of treatment if I believed that the incident was of any consequence at all.

Did Billy Slater get off lightly for this shoulder charge?

The aftermath of the Billy Slater incident

The banning of the shoulder charge is a good thing. High impact shoulder charges can be deadly. The Sunshine Coast Falcons’ player, and father of two, James Ackerman tragically died after being shoulder charged in a 2015 match.

They need to be punished and the perpetrators are punished. However, there also needs to be common sense applied. If Kevin Proctor can be given only a letter of warning from the NRL for a squirrel grip in Round 1 then surely Billy Slater – and others engaging in low impact offences – can be written to or fined rather than suspended.

Or does the NRL genuinely think that a low end shoulder charge is so much worse than a player deliberately grabbing an opponent’s sexual organs? At this point the answer to that appears to be yes…

If a fine system was in place then they could just fine Slater $10,000 and be done with it. Strewth! Fine him $50,000 if you want.

But don’t suspend him.

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Billy Slater breaks through the Broncos to score a try in the first NRL Preliminary final

Billy Slater is crucial for the Storm (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

However, the chances are good that Slater will get suspended and make us miss this ornament to the game going out as he should.

That can’t be allowed to happen. The Storm must follow the path taken by the Sydney Swans back in 1996.

The Sydney based club stopped their fullback Andrew Dunkley from having his case heard before the AFL tribunal by taking the matter to the Supreme Court claiming procedural unfairness.

In the delay to have the case heard, Dunkley was free to play. Innocent until proven guilty.
It is now history that Wayne Carey towelled up Dunkley and the Swans lost – and that he subsequently (and rightly) received a three-game suspension. But Dunkley played.

And Slater must play.

I think the only reason most of the people calling for him to be suspended are doing so is because they don’t like Slater. They don’t like the Storm. You might throw The Queensland Maroons into that too.

Some are just saying that we must apply consistency to these things, no matter what the stage.

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But as I’ve pointed out above – and there are so many more examples too – there has been no consistency at all on these matters.

Enforcing the letter of the law now is failing to recognise that inconsistency – and it’s just plain mean spirited to boot.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sick of the Storm too. I’ve been angry about the special rub of the green they appear to get. I’m envious of their continued success and wish they’d become far more mediocre.

But there’s a time and place people. And stopping Billy Slater going out playing in an NRL grand final is neither the time or place to prosecute all of our pent up animosity and jealousy.

This suspension must be stopped.

The Storm need to get their lawyers onto this ASAP in order to make sure that this madness is stopped.

The Slater story needs to end on the field, not at the judiciary.

This grand final needs the lad from Innisfail to play, even if it means going to court to make sure of it.

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