I’m sorry. I know it’s a great result for the grand final and for Billy Slater and for Melbourne Storm, and the greater vibe and the mojo and all that.
And I know Slater deserved to play his last game in the grand final, and that he’s a champion and a future Immortal, and the greatest fullback we’ve ever seen.
I know all that. But I’m still sorry.
Because it was a shoulder charge. And you’re not allowed to do it.
Look at it again. And again. And again. And it’s a shoulder charge every time.
He didn’t deviate on his line to Sosaia Feki.
He was going straight at him with one thing in mind – stop Feki scoring by bashing him into touch. And the best way to do that? The way to get Feki off the field and at the same time reduce the chance of harm on Slater?
Bunch his shoulder and bash into him thus.
And that’s a shoulder charge is. That’s what one is. If a forward did the same thing in the middle of they field, using the same angles, it’s a shoulder charge.
Forget all that east-west, north-south, front-on stuff. If Slater had hit Feki with the exact same shot in the exact middle of the park, it would be a shoulder charge, at least under the definition of the laws which say it’s illegal to effect a tackle without using one’s arms.
Call it a collision. Call it whatever you want. But it says in the rule book you can’t do it.
And it’s what Slater did.
He didn’t ‘lead’ with his hand. His hands were not at all involved in the tackle. It was shoulder on shoulder, and it was a cracking good hit and it saved a try in spectacular fashion. And it shouldn’t even be deemed a shoulder charge, really.
It’s a pretty cool part of the game, when it doesn’t hurt anyone’s head.
But it can. And that’s why it’s not allowed. And that’s why Slater was penalised, and Cameron Smith didn’t argue because smart kid like him knew it probably should’ve been a penalty try, and that had the referee thrown it up to the bunker it probably would have been, given they’d have slowed it down and seen what everyone could, and that was Billy Slater not using his arms to effect a tackle.
Which is a thing that’s not allowed. It says so in the rules.
Yet the high-flying Slater came up on a high-flying private jet with his high-flying team of lawyers in tow. And there he somehow managed to convince the Three Blind Mice, sorry, I mean judiciary members Sean Garlick, Mal Cochrane and Bob Lindner that it was not a shoulder charge, or that he didn’t mean it, or something…
I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter now does it? Billy’s been freed and rugby league has yet again showed it’s not above brushing the rules in certain circumstances.
Well – rugby league didn’t do that. Rugby league – The National Rugby League – charged Slater with the crime.
The NRL employed the referee who penalised Slater on the field. And the NRL setup the judicial hearing and all the stuff around it.
But the men left to make the decision are three independent operators. And that’s how it is.
Perhaps not as it should be. Maybe they should get people who’ll adjudicate according to, you know, the laws.
It’s a funny one. Because it’s not a court of law. Slater didn’t steal money from your grandma.
In rugby league, as in life, it seems there’s a place for sentiment.
Especially when the $1000-an-hour lawyer can fly up in the million dollar jet to make an argument so good that three apparently sentient human beings can see something that walks like a duck and talks like a duck and decide that it’s a Komodo Dragon.
Or a ham sandwich. Or the six o’clock news. Or what have you.
Who are these people? Normal people. Garlo makes pies. Bobby Lindner’s an optometrist. Mal Cochrane’s an old copper. A stickler for rules, according to Roy Masters who you’d suggest might know.
But apparently, still, at heart, a sentimental bloke like the other two, men who’ve #FreedBilly because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s the correct thing to do.
If that makes sense. Not sure if it does. Don’t care.
Oh look I don’t know. I suppose it doesn’t matter. I suppose the right decision’s been made, though anyone going up before the judiciary for a shoulder charge in 2019 will be able plead the Slater Clause, particularly if they get the same lawyer, who’ll be quite the gun-for-hire.
And yet, look at those tackles, and look at the Slater tackle, and if you don’t use your arms it’s – according to the rules – an illegal tackle. You can’t see Slater’s as otherwise.
Whether it was worth the 200 points or 100 points, or 75 carry-over the decimal point points, or whatever, is a tale for another time.
In this one Billy Slater ran straight at Feki with the express purpose of banging him into touch using his shoulder. It was super-fast because that’s how Billy does things.
It’s what makes him a champion: he can see and calculate space and rip off these super-manoeuvres at tip-top pace.
And he knew what he was doing. He knew it had to be done. And any argument otherwise has to be backed up with slow-motion footage, which can see things that aren’t there.
Because Slater’s work on Feki in the corner is a duck. A golden duck. And Slater is a golden goose. He is Makybe Diva.
Before the 2005 Melbourne Cup they were going to scratch the Diva unless they watered Flemington. So the AJC watered Flemington, at the behest of a horse. Not really a horse. The horse’s people.
And the Diva became a legend.
And Billy Slater is playing in the grand final on Sunday because he is Billy Slater. And I’m sorry. It’s the best call. But it isn’t the right one.