Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens says he never considered standing down Billy Slater and strongly disputes suggestions the star fullback over-reacted during a nightclub fight.
Slater was on Wednesday named in Australia’s 20-man squad for the World Cup quarter-final against the US after being arrested and released without charge early on Monday morning.
Speaking for the first time about the incident, Sheens defended Slater’s actions but admitted it was unreasonable for players to be out at 2.40am.
He got hit first, doing nothing. What’s that if that’s not being a victim?
The coach said while he would not impose any alcohol bans or curfews in the wake of the incident, he’d spoken to the playing group and there would be a “self-imposed” response from the team.
Police confirmed Slater acted in self-defence after being struck in the face by a 40-year-old Manchester man outside the popular Mojo club, with CCTV footage showing the Kangaroos star retaliating with a powerful punch.
While some on social media and forum have branded Slater’s reaction over-the-top, Sheens says the fullback defended himself like any man would and there was no question he was the victim.
“He reacted the same way most people would,” Sheens said.
“He was assaulted and he threw one back.
“He got hit first, doing nothing. What’s that if that’s not being a victim?”
Asked whether he considered standing Slater down for this week’s match, Sheens said: “No.”
The coach said he had shared Slater’s disappointment that the incident had shifted the focus away from Australia’s unbeaten run through the World Cup group stage, but said he would not ban alcohol or treat his players “like seven-year-olds”.
“They understand what’s reasonable and what’s not reasonable,” Sheens said.
“There were a few of them out. It’s probably unreasonable for them to be out there at that time, they know it. He’s already admitted that, Billy.
“But when’s the right time? … it could been 12 o’clock or 10 o’clock.
“I’m not going to treat them like seven-year-olds and I don’t think they reacted like seven-year-olds.
“It’s all according to the police; he went back to (get his jacket), it was a reaction from a bloke in the crowd that started it.
“From that point of view (if that didn’t happen), he’s home and there’s no issue and we’re not talking about any of this.”
Sheens says Australia’s performances show his players are taking a professional approach to the tournament.
“They’re not out on all-night benders all year or all week. They are focused,” he said.
“Their performances have been pretty strong in my opinion and have got better over the three weeks.”