On 15 August 1948 Don Bradman strolled out to the crease in his final match, and two balls later he walking back to the pavilion. He didn’t know it at the time, but that was his final innings – Australia belted England by an innings inside four days.
What Bradman also didn’t know was that he needed a mere four more runs to secure a career average of over 100.
Ian Healy played over 100 Tests for Australia and was one of the best keepers of all time, but he was afforded no sympathy by the Australian Cricket Board and was dropped without the opportunity for a farewell Test at the Gabba – the very next Test. No, Adam Gilchrist was simply too good to keep on the bench. No fairytale ending for his career.
Chris Judd, one of the best AFL players of this generation, spent his last seconds on the football field being driven off on a medical cart – and without a fairytale homecoming premiership with Carlton. He had no opportunity to be hauled up onto the shoulders of teammates for a valedictorian lap of honour.
Andrew Johns’s career was ended by an innocuous tackle at a training session. There was no fairytale ending for him, no running out one last time with the boys.
What’s my point? You aren’t entitled to a fairytale ending just because you’re good. The fairytale ending is a bonus, not a birthright.
Billy Slater, like many other greats, deserves a fairytale ending, but he’s not entitled to one, and as sad as it is to write, he should not get one this Sunday.
Slater deserves to be suspended, plain and simple.
He used his shoulder in a sport that has outlawed it entirely. Yes, as shoulder charges go, it was low-grade and superbly executed example – he didn’t touch the head; it was pure torso. It also saved a try – but it was a shoulder charge, and it’s outlawed because of the damage it can do.
I commented on Tim Gore’s article that the NRL views shoulder charges with the same zero-tolerance attitude as the police do with speeding. I’ve been caught doing 120 kilometre sper hour in 100 zones on quiet country roads. At that point in time I’m not a danger to anyone but myself, but I could be another time, and if the cops don’t ping me for it, I’m more likely to be that danger. Others could be elsewhere.
A society that respects the rule of law doesn’t and shouldn’t reward someone for ‘getting away with it’. We always have to be mindful of the next time.
There has never been a suspension that will be so costly on a player like the one that should be doled out to Billy Slater. I’m not one for hyperbole, but it’s not unreasonable to speculate we may never see another suspension like it again. Ever. Times infinity plus one. It really is that significant.
Comparisons to other suspensions are meaningless and pointless. It cannot be done. The Cameron Smith 2008 suspension, despite people automatically reaching for it, is not in the same time zone. Smith was not at the absolute peak of his considerable powers in 2008. Smith was not an immortal-in-waiting at the time like Billy Slater is now. Smith was only a few years into building that ridiculously fantastic CV.
Smith got to lace up the boots in 2009. Billy Slater won’t in 2019. If the law were driven by desire, then it would be case closed as to why the NRL shouldn’t suspend Billy Slater – but we don’t live in a world governed by desire.
It would be cruel to see his career ended like this, but I suspect that in a year or two, though almost certainly sooner, people will remember the premierships, countless State of Origin victories, the golden boots, the winner of a world cup and best player in the tournament, the Dally M medal, the Clive Churchill medal and much, much more.
He is an immortal in waiting, and certainly 99.9 per cent of past, present and future players will not possess a career summary like his. With a record like that, will it really be the end of the world if he didn’t get the fairytale ending he and we crave? It’s not like he is a Gary Ablett figure and a genius tortured by an inability to win a premiership. When the footy gods handed out the good stuff Slater was front and centre with a massive bowl to be filled.
This is not to be interpreted as Slater deserving to be suspended because he won more than others. This isn’t karmic retribution. Not at all. This suspension would not define him, nor would I suspect would it would rate much of a mention in the future save for the odd ‘top five harsh calls’ list.
The law is reason unaffected by desire. I hope the NRL judiciary, former players all, remember that.
Future incidents depend on the correct ruling on Tuesday evening, and that’s a Billy Slater suspension.