Billy Slater is free to play in the NRL grand final after the judiciary found him not guilty of a shoulder charge.
The Storm fullback was handed a Grade 1 charge by the match review committee after he made what was deemed to be illegal contact with the shoulder on winger Sosaia Feki during the first half of the Storm’s preliminary final win over the Cronulla Sharks at AAMI Park last week.
The three-man judiciary panel, consisting of Sean Garlick, Bob Lindner and Mal Cochrane, agreed with Slater’s version of events in the end, despite a strong cross-examination by the NRL.
Melbourne’s star custodian, who is due to retire following this weekend’s decider, will go down as one of the game’s greats.
Being cleared by the judiciary gives Slater his seventh grand final for the Melbourne-based club.
In defending his actions in the tackle, the 318-club-game veteran told the judiciary that a change of direction from Feki was the reason for the collision, with the contact becoming unavoidable.
“At the time I realised that Sosaia was 10 metres away from the corner post, I felt that I was a little bit further away from the corner post than he was. I know I have to get there and my intention is to make a ball and all tackle to get my body between the ball and try line,” he said.
“When he plants that left foot his intention changes from going directly to the corner post to going directly at me. My shoulders and my feet are heading directly to that corner post. He changes and this puts me in a vulnerable position.
“By him veering back towards me the contact has happened a metre or two metres before I anticipated.
“He’s raised his right elbow so I’ve protected myself with my left side of the body but I’ve turned my head to avoid his elbow. If I’m not going 33kmh I’m going somewhere near it and I have two metres to make a decision.”
The incident has been disputed heavily this week on social media and by footy fans around the country.
While Slater has been cleared for the decider, it’s unclear if former teammate and current Sydney Roosters half Cooper Cronk will be able to play, as he is battling a shoulder injury.
Cronk was today named on the reserves list for the grand final, with Mitchell Aubusson into the halves.
The former Melbourne No.7 is expected to be given until kick off to prove his fitness, with the grand final to be played on Sunday at 7:15pm (AEST).