Fans and experts have been left divided over the NRL judiciary’s decision to give Billy Slater a grand final reprieve.
Slater’s dream of bowing out with a premiership is alive again after overturning a shoulder charge citing in a mammoth three-hour judiciary hearing on Tuesday.
In arguably the biggest judiciary case of the NRL era, an anxious Slater took centre stage as he pleaded his case on why his career shouldn’t end with a shoulder charge ban.
Both sides argued for two hours before Slater was made to sweat another 54 minutes before the three-person panel of Mal Cochrane, Bob Lindner and Sean Garlick found Slater not guilty.
Understandably, the decision left fans and a number of pundits fuming.
Rugby league journo Paul Crawley said the judiciary’s call was “disappointing.”
“I’m not surprised (by the decision) but it does disappoint you because the rule is the rule,” he said on NRL 360.
“Whether or not you agree with it… the rule is the rule. And we’ve changed the rule in grand final week so that Billy can play.
“How do we walk away from the season feeling?”
Fellow journo Paul Kent said the decision has set a dangerous precedent.
“This now goes into the game as a precedent, as a not guilty decision,” he said.
“This is now a legal tackle in the game.”
Nick Tedeschi of The Guardian said the verdict was a “knee-jerk farce”.
“The greater issue at play is that yet another reactionary and knee-jerk decision by the game’s leadership has hurt the reputation of rugby league and made a mockery of the sport they are supposed to lead,” he wrote.
However veteran journo Phil Rothfield agreed with the decision to let Billy play.
“For the NRL it was always going to be a no-win scenario,” he wrote.
“Although this is one the game got right. Billy Slater deserves to play.”
And Christian Nicolussi of the Sydney Morning Herald agreed.
“Yes. Common sense prevails,” he tweeted.
“Billy Slater is a smart dude who spoke with confidence. I really have become a convert.”
— christian nicolussi (@mrchrisnico) September 25, 2018
Fans and other experts were also heavily divided.
Great result for #BillySlater, but I don’t know where we now are regarding shoulder charges.
The Match Review Committee is back to square one – you can now tuck an arm and contact a ball carrier with your shoulder, with force, and be found not guilty.
— Warren Smith (@WarrenSmithFOX) September 25, 2018
The #NRL panel has absolutely embarrassed themselves there but I’m delighted Billy Slater can play in the GF. Bonkers decision, wonderful outcome.
— Phil Lutton (@phillutton78) September 25, 2018
Billy Slater is FREE TO PLAY! There IS a God! #FreeBilly
— Rohan Connolly (@rohan_connolly) September 25, 2018
Had a weird dream last night, that Billy Slater was miraculously cleared from a pretty black and white shoulder charge, and therefore allowed to make a fairy tale finish to his career in a GF.
Imagine if that came true, nuts… #NRLGF
— Brett McKay (@BMcSport) September 25, 2018
Indeed. Common sense to let Billy Slater be above the law hey? What an absolute disgrace.
— Aaron (@AaronRigato) September 25, 2018
NRL decision regarding Billy Slater is an absolute farce. Talk about favoritism. A shoulder charge is a shoulder charge.
— Lynn Murphy (@murlynhorses) September 25, 2018
You’re kidding. The @NRL is a disgrace. Chew it up and spit it out however you want, it was a shoulder charge. He should be watching from the sidelines. The @NRL and their flawed judicial process has chosen a fairytale over what is right and treats fans with contempt.
— Ray Ray (@ayeray83) September 25, 2018
I love Billy Slater, and don't support either team (or QLD or NSW). I would have hated to see Billy miss the GF, but he had to. The NRL have really compromised themselves, and made a bit of a farce of the league and the sport as a result.
— Daniel Smith (@DannyAdelante) September 25, 2018
What a joke!! The only reason he got off is that Slater is a protected species. You've set a very dangerous precedent now. Lookout next season. #slaterthegrub If it was anyone else – they'd be gone for a week, at least
— Jim Cee (@SamuraiJAC76) September 25, 2018
Did anyone seriously think he was ever in danger of missing his last game, the grand final? Seriously? And that says something about the #nrl. Also says something about us as fans of the game what we are prepard to accept. #corrupt #BillySlater #nrlstorm
— Marine Boy (@CAEL8888) September 25, 2018
Weak #nrl make shambles of rules and judiciary with Billy Slater decision. No wonder rugby league is in decline and fans stay away.
No GF for me it will be just another fixed game from this corrupt administration.
— Dr Outside Looking In (@Connundrum54) September 25, 2018
Good to see @billyslater will play. At the end of the day it’s a Grand Final.
— jarryd hayne (@JarrydHayne) September 25, 2018
How Slater and lawyer won over the judiciary
Slater twice got up in front of the panel to demonstrate how Sosaia Feki’s step had resulted in the 35-year-old taking evasive action to avoid dangerous contact with the Cronulla winger.
He claimed that despite the collision, his right hand was the first point of contact and his left hand had attempted to grab Feki’s right arm.
He also suggested Feki cocked his elbow prior to the collision, forcing Slater to turn his body, and that it was the force from his hip that cannoned the Sharks player over the sideline.
“I’ve still got a tenderness on my hip today and it was four days ago. That was the force of the hips colliding,” Slater said during the hearing.
The controversial decision is likely to ignite further debate on the shoulder charge, with former Kangaroos captain Brad Fittler claiming the ruling would set a precedent prior to the hearing.