Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater has been found not guilty of a shoulder charge and will play in the National Rugby League grand final.
It means Slater has the chance of a fairy tale finish to his rugby league career in Sunday’s NRL grand final against the Sydney Roosters after avoiding suspension.
Slater, who will retire after the grand final, was cleared of a grade-one charge at a marathon NRL judiciary hearing in Sydney – lasting close to three hours.
He had been cited for his attempted tackle on Cronulla’s Sosaia Feki in last Friday night’s preliminary final in Melbourne.
The Storm’s legal team had argued Slater was trying to brace for the impact of the collision with Feki and he found himself in what he described to the judiciary panel as a “vulnerable position”.
Slater, who was joined by Storm coach Craig Bellamy at the hearing, claimed he had to protect himself “slightly” with his left shoulder but had always intended to make the tackle by trying to wrap his right arm around Feki.
“I feel the contact that was made was unavoidable,” Slater told the judiciary.
Slater’s lawyer Nick Ghabar showed still images of the tackle, indicating Slater’s right arm made contact with Feki.
NRL counsel Anthony La Surdo, however, argued Slater made no attempt to wrap his arms around Feki in a tackle, using slow motion footage to press his case during his cross-examination.
“That’s what you intended to do but that’s not what happened,” Mr La Surdo said.
“What you intended to do and what you ended up doing are two different things.”
Mr Ghabar told the judiciary Slater’s actions amounted to a “situation where a player did not make a conscious decision to use his shoulder”, while labelling it as “not a traditional, if there is a type of thing, shoulder charge”.
He said Slater’s initial contact in the tackle was made with his pectoral muscle and not his shoulder, and Feki had changed his direction, which meant the contact could not be avoided.
“What else could he have done?” Mr Ghabar asked the judiciary.
The judiciary panel – consisting of retired first-grade players Bob Lindner, Mal Cochrane and Sean Garlick – then found Slater not guilty following its deliberation, lasting almost an hour.