NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler says the NRL judiciary has to make Billy Slater’s grand final ban for a shoulder charge stick, warning they risk letting the play return to the game if he’s let off.
Slater’s potential ban and the health of his ex-teammate Cooper Cronk’s shoulder will dominate discussion before next Sunday’s grand final between Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters.
If Slater is banned, he will become the unlucky 13th player to be rubbed out of a decider since they became compulsory in 1954, but the first retiring player to do so.
He would also be the first player to be banned from a grand final because of a shoulder charge, since the play was outlawed in 2013.
The confusion surrounding the matter was summed up on Sunday morning, when NRL competition committee member Darren Lockyer indicated Slater’s shoulder charge was not the kind of hit the game was attempting to get rid of when the rules and gradings were tweaked at the start of last year.
Slater has been supported in a number of quarters since the hit on Cronulla winger Sosaia Feki on Friday night, including stand-in Sharks captain Luke Lewis, the last man to be banned from a grand final Issac Luke and former NRL judiciary chairman Paul Conlon.
But Fittler said the NRL risked setting a dangerous precedent if Slater wasn’t found guilty by the three-man judiciary panel.
“The fact it’s Billy Slater and a grand final, you’ve got to take that away from it,” Fittler told Nine’s Sunday Footy Show.
“If you want to stop players doing it, then you have to uphold what they’ve gone down with.
“Otherwise you’re not going to take it out. All fullbacks are going to come across and say now I can shoulder charge in this instance because Billy Slater got out of it.”
Much of the discussion has centred around whether a fullback in cover defence from the side – as Slater did – is as dangerous as the traditional front-on shoulder charge.
“To get rid of the dangerous ones in our games, that’s brought in the fact the lesser one, the Billy Slater one, where they come across to save a try, that’s caught up in that category,” Lockyer said.
“With the Billy one, I think it would be crazy to see him rubbed out of a grand final for that play.”
But Fittler said that didn’t matter.
“Until someone gets hit in the head in that situation, then we’re going to have to go back and look at that situation again and do the whole thing again.”