Billy Slater’s defence at the judiciary is likely to rest on one key factor.
Slater will have his grand final fate decided on Tuesday night after he was hit with a one-game ban for a shoulder charge against Cronulla in Friday night’s preliminary final.
The Storm spent Sunday strengthening their case to allow Slater a shot at a fairytale end to his 16-year NRL career, after having already hired gun defence counsel Nick Ghabar to represent Slater.
Under the NRL’s 2018 Laws and Interpretations document, a shoulder charge is defined 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.”
And according to the club’s football manager, the Storm will argue that Slater first made contact with Feki with his hands, not his shoulder.
“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,” Frank Ponissi told Triple M on Sunday.
“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.”
The fact that Feki also stepped back in to make the initial contact with Slater might also come into play.
NRL.com have argued that Slater was “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”.
Ghabar was the man who helped free Justin Hodges to play in the 2015 grand final, and is known for his work in helping players avoid shoulder charge bans – having successfully defended both Sam Burgess and Jack Wighton in the past two years.
NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler on Sunday declared the judiciary had no choice but to find him guilty, or risk setting a dangerous precedent and allow the play to return to the game.
But NRL competition committee member Darren Lockyer and former judiciary panel chairman Paul Conlon have both come out in the champion Melbourne fullback’s defence.
Brother of player killed by shoulder charge speaks out
According to Andrew Ackerman, the NRL needs to uphold Slater’s ban for the sake of his brother’s memory.
James Ackerman was killed in 2015 when he was hit by a shoulder charge while playing in the Queensland Cup.
“Once again, when the shoulder charge comes into play this bloke right here (he pointed to a picture of James) is mentioned,” Andrew said on Sunday.
“Now he is dead as the result of a shoulder charge. I watched him die that day, it’s not something I thought I’d ever have to watch.
“Whenever it’s brought up, we relive the past and I am sick of it. I am so, so sick of it. I want to scream, I want to break something, but I’m not that type of bloke.
“Now Billy Slater should be found guilty of a shoulder charge.
“I know there was no malice nor intent to hurt in this tackle. No one was injured. But a shoulder charge was used.”