Billy Slater blasted by NRL fans over response to Melbourne Storm trophy furore

The former Storm player has defended the club's move to parade their stripped trophies from 2007 and 2009.

Billy Slater and the Melbourne Storm's stripped NRL titles.
Billy Slater has defended the Melbourne Storm for parading their stripped NRL titles. Image: Getty

Billy Slater has joined Cameron Smith in defending the Melbourne Storm's decision to parade their stripped NRL titles from 2007 and 2009 at a 25-year celebration last weekend. The Storm were widely condemned by fans after they bought replica trophies (reportedly worth $25,000-a-pop) of the titles they had stripped and brought them out in front of fans at Marvel Stadium.

The Storm had past players parade their six premiership trophies during a ceremony to celebrate their 25th year in the NRL competition. But fans were left seething when they saw the Storm had included the 2007 and 2009 trophies that were later stripped due to systemic salary cap cheating.

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The move was blasted as 'disgusting' and 'pathetic' by angry fans, especially considering it took place before the Storm's clash against Parramatta - who Melbourne beat in the 2009 grand final. But according to Storm legend Slater, the move was simply designed to recognise the players who took part in those grand final-winning seasons.

“I respect people’s opinion, and everyone has their right to have their opinion,” he said on The Billy Slater Podcast on Tuesday. “I understand people would disagree with celebrating that, and acknowledging that.

"But I think it’s important to understand the club’s point of view too, and particularly the players’ point of view. The players who were involved in that era of the Melbourne Storm, that was a four-year period from 2006 to 2009, and some players were only involved in the game through that period.

“So do we just wipe their careers? Or do we acknowledge that they contributed to the game, they went through pre-seasons, they went and put their bodies on the line.

“I can understand people’s opinion, and their decision not to approve of that, but I think looking at it from our point of view it wasn’t televised, it was done to a crowd of Storm people, and it was done for the players. If you don’t like someone’s haircut when you’re walking down the street, do you go and voice your opinion to them? Or do you just keep walking and ignore it? If you don’t like it, just ignore it, move on with your life. ”

Slater's response left fans unimpressed, with many accusing him and the club of not taking full accountability for the cheating.

Cameron Smith responds to Melbourne Storm trophy furore

Smith, who captained the Storm throughout the cheating-plagued years, also said he thought the players deserved to be recognised considering they allegedly had no knowledge of the salary cap flouting. “I think it was purely an in-house thing that they were doing for the fans and the players and particularly the old boys down there," Smith said on SEN radio.

“Everyone’s going to have their opinion, and I don’t try to tell people they’re wrong if they have a different opinion to myself or any other Storm person that wants to still celebrate those grand final wins. I don’t ask them to understand the way we feel about it either. I completely understand people would say ‘That’s wrong, they shouldn’t do that’ and that’s fine but at the same time, many people wouldn’t understand the way we feel about it either.

“There were guys there that played in those grand finals and then were forced to leave the club in 2010. After that, they never had an opportunity to play in another grand final or an opportunity to win one.

Cameron Smith and Billy Slater with the trophy after the 2009 NRL grand final.
Cameron Smith and Billy Slater celebrate with the trophy after the 2009 NRL grand final. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

“There was punishment handed down at the time and the club and the players and all the administration and fans had to live through that. At no stage was it an opportunistic time to show it off or parade it around.

“The thing I want to get across is, I can understand why it’s annoyed a lot of people and that’s fine – as long as those people can acknowledge too that I don’t think those people understand the way that the Storm people in that period feel about it at all. I’m sure looking at it now, they’re probably thinking they weren’t expecting this amount of news and reporting on it. Particular fans around the country still hold onto it and I completely get that.”

The controversy has re-opened debate around what should be done with the 2007 and 2009 trophies. Rather then award them to the runners-up (Manly and Parramatta), the NRL has kept the trophies and put an asterisk next to those years in the record books.

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