Even by Craig Bellamy’s standards, it was an angry night in the coach’s box.
Superstar fullback Billy Slater is set to face the NRL judiciary at 6pm tonight to defend a shoulder charge citation that could see him rubbed out of the NRL grand final. It’s set to be one of the most closely followed judiciary hearings in recent years.
This is The Roar’s guide on everything you need to know about the hearing.
With cases this contentious, it’s difficult to predict just how long it will take the judiciary to reach a verdict. Using the Latrell Mitchell hearing from two weeks ago as a guide, we should know Slater’s fate by roughly 8pm (AEST), assuming they start on time at 6pm.
The Roar will have all the news on the verdict as soon as it breaks.
In the 14th minute of Melbourne’s 22-6 preliminary final victory over Cronulla, Slater raced towards the sideline and bumped Sharks winger Sosaia Feki shoulder-to-shoulder to prevent a try. Feki was hit heavily by the bump, losing possession of the ball and being knocked well out of bounds.
While the referees penalised Slater for a shoulder charge, they stopped short of awarding Feki a penalty try, nor was Slater placed on report or sent to the sin bin.
Feki ended up leaving the field a few minutes later, while Slater himself went on to score two tries before half-time in a superb effort.
Should Slater be issued a suspension for his shoulder charge, not only will he miss the grand final but, as he has announced his retirement at the end of the season, he’ll actually have his career unceremoniously cut short.
If the Storm are able to successfully defend the charge, their star fullback will be free to play in the grand final against the Sydney Roosters on Sunday.
With former Storm and current Sydney halfback Cooper Cronk battling a shoulder injury to play, Slater’s presence would likely see Melbourne head into the decider with massive favouritism, whereas his absence would level the playing somewhat field if Cronk is indeed out injured.
Despite Feki being knocked down heavily, Sharks players didn’t elect to remonstrate with Slater, and the match was played out largely without incident.
In a post-match interview, Slater defended his actions, saying; “there was no malice or anything in that I didn’t think.”
“I was coming across at speed, and I actually though Sosaia Feki was going to step back on the inside.
“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 for me to put my head [down] if I had to.”
Storm coach Craig Bellamy echoed Slater’s sentiments in the press conference, saying the incident didn’t particularly worry him when he saw it happen live.
Interestingly, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan also supported the Storm fullback’s actions in his post-match press conference.
“What do you want him to do there? I’m not quite sure,” he rhetorically asked reporters.
“For his team, he needs to save a try there and I think he did his best”.
When asked if Slater deserved to play in the grand final, Flanagan said “100 per cent.”
On the other hand, New South Wales Origin coach and Channel Nine analyst Brad Fittler said Slater needed to be suspended for his actions.
Citing incidents in the past, where players had still been suspended for shoulder charges despite it being the result of an accident or a player bracing, Fittler said “the fact it’s Billy Slater and it’s a grand final – you’ve got to take that away from it.”
“If you want to stop players doing it, you’ve got to uphold what they’ve gone down with.”
This is a tough one to answer. The consensus of most NRL fans is that, if the judiciary is consistent, he will be suspended, but under the ‘spirit’ of the law, he probably doesn’t deserve to be.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Storm’s defence will revolve around the notion that the collision never put Feki at risk of injury. They will be buoyed by Marika Koroibete’s let-off after a similar incident against the Panthers in 2016.
That incident, which resulted in Penrith’s Dallin Watene-Zelezniak having shoulder scans, was labelled as “a desperate tackle or bump” by match review committee chairman Michael Buettner.
Buettner was quoted in the Herald as saying, “you can see Koroibete making his way across at great speed, and when you look at the incident no charge was applicable.”