It’ll be a nervous week for Slater as he contends with one of the biggest judiciary hearings of all time.
It’ll be a nervous week for Slater as he contends with one of the biggest judiciary hearings of all time.

Slater’s grand final escape explained

THE NRL grand final teams are set and as usual, there is great intrigue and plenty of storylines leading into the biggest weekend of the year.

Will Cooper Cronk be able to line up against his former side in the juiciest match up in years?

Will Jake Friend be cited for a lifting tackle on Greg Inglis which will likely come under the scrutiny of the match review committee?

But the biggest news will be Billy Slater.

The champion fullback has been charged with a grade one shoulder charge for a first half hit on Sharks winger Sosaia Feki on Friday night.

The charge carries a minimum 200 demerit points which means Melbourne and Slater will need to fight as even an early guilty plea would see Slater banned from the grand final.

Was the preliminary final Billy Slater’s last game?
Was the preliminary final Billy Slater’s last game?


In 2018, the NRL released it's 2018 NRL Laws and Interpretations document. It defines a shoulder charge as "where a defender does not use, or attempt to use, his arms (including his hands) to tackle or otherwise take hold of the opposing player and the contact is forceful. It will be considered misconduct, if any player affects a tackle in the manner as defined."

A grade one is the lowest grading of a shoulder charge offered by the NRL match review committee.


The Storm will hope to use this rule to argue Slater used his hands in order to bundle Feki into touch according to the club's football manager Frank Ponissi.

"Since last night we've been onto our defence team and we want to give him the best possible chance to play next Sunday night," he told Triple M NRL.

"Certainly it's one where we believe we've got a good case.

"For us it's a difficult one because it's not your conventional shoulder charge where two players are running directly at each other.

"This is a unique situation where a bloke is flying at incredible speed into a corner and a player comes back. So we believe there's enough in that to mount a really good case."

Melbourne will argue Slater was getting handsy with Feki.
Melbourne will argue Slater was getting handsy with Feki.

Also working in Melbourne's favour is the success of recent challenges to the rule.

Since the shoulder charge laws were rewritten at the start of last year, the judiciary panel has sided with the player four times out of six when challenging their charges.

Slater was adamant after the game the incident was just an "unfortunate collision", as both he and Feki were running at top speed for the corner.

"He's obviously disappointed, but Bill being Bill he's on the offensive straight away to do what he can to help with the defence case," Ponissi said.

The website also broke down Slater's defence, arguing Slater was at top speed and "not in a position to put his head down in time to make a conventional tackle without risking the welfare of both himself and Feki".


The judiciary normally sits on Tuesday but the Storm have put in a request for a Monday hearing, so "everyone can move on and start talking about the grand final", according to Ponissi.

Melbourne will put its hope in gun defence counsel Nick Ghabar to fight for Slater to play in next Sunday's decider.

But Slater's hopes of playing one last NRL game will rest in the hands of a three-man panel of ex-players next week

Melbourne had been expecting Slater to go uncharged but have been setting up Slater's defence since receiving the news on Saturday morning.

The Storm confirmed immediately they'd challenge the charge and hired Ghabar, who is considered as one of the best lawyers available when players attempt to evade a ban.

Ghabar was responsible for freeing Jack Wighton to play in the 2016 finals series after an apparent shoulder charge on Michael Ennis.

He also successfully defended Sam Burgess against a shoulder charge claim at the start of last season after he cleaned up Canterbury's Greg Eastwood.

"We're going to leave no stones unturned and do everything we can to get Bill up," Ponissi said.

"We think we've got a strong case, we were disappointed he was charged.

Whether the hearing can be pushed forward will depend on a number of logistical challenges for the NRL.

Slater had his hands up when bundling Feki into touch.
Slater had his hands up when bundling Feki into touch.


Players and officials have backed Slater to take part in the grand final.

Retiring Sharks star Luke Lewis immediately jumped to Slater's defence and asked the judiciary to show some common sense.

"What do you want him to do?" Lewis said.

"He's one of the best defensive fullbacks in the game and you have to stop a try and put your body on the line.

"If someone was to miss a game for something like that, I don't know what our game would be coming to. It's a contact sport."

Kiwi hooker Issac Luke, the last big name to miss a decider due to a ban when he was playing for South Sydney in 2014, also believed Slater should play.



Slater's Storm teammates were also in shock about the charges. Winger Josh Addo-Carr said it would be a "massive blow" to lose Slater for the title decider and defended his teammate's actions.

"What's he meant to do? He's just gone in for a tackle," Addo-Carr told AAP. "I don't reckon it's a shoulder charge or anything, he just went in for the tackle and did his best to stop the try."

Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster said Slater shouldn't be given special treatment because of his status as one of the game's greats, but didn't believe the hit deserved anything more than a penalty.

"There was no malice - it's just Bill being a competitor and wanting to do the best for his team and stop the try and that was a tackle he needed to make," Munster said.

"It would be really disappointing if he doesn't get to play in his last game but there's rules with that kind of stuff and no one is bigger than the game.

"I would love to see Bill go out a winner because he's a champion bloke and a champion player."

Rugby league legend and commentator Phil Gould was one of the loudest voices in support of Slater immediately after the incident.

He tweeted: "Billy Slater risks serious injury to himself with any other kind of tackle under the circumstances. These players are at full speed. The best result for both players was the collision that took place. Less danger for both. No one injured. Play on."

- with AAP