Veteran fullback Billy Slater has been left emotionally exhausted after his fight to play in Sunday’s NRL grand final, turning up for a light training session ahead of Storm’s departure for Sydney on Wednesday.
Slater was cleared at a judiciary panel hearing in Sydney on Tuesday night of disciplinary action for a shoulder charge.
The champion fullback was on a quick turnaround, having flown to Sydney in a private plane for Tuesday night’s three-hour hearing, and returned to Melbourne the same way late on Tuesday.
He joined his Storm teammates at training in Melbourne on Wednesday morning before he and the rest of the Storm team flew to Sydney.
“There’s no doubt he’s emotionally fatigued,” Storm football manager Frank Ponissi said.
“He’s put a lot of work in. He’s sent me countless texts and emails over the last few days and some of that footage that was shown [at the hearing] was put together by he and [wife] Nicole.
“Coming home he was happy but just exhausted.”
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) September 26, 2018
Ponissi said Slater’s workload would build up leading into Sunday’s ANZ Stadium title showdown.
Slater had already announced his retirement at the close of the 2018 season. But after being reported for his try-saving shoulder charge on Cronulla winger Sosaia Feki in the Storm’s preliminary final victory, he faced a one-match ban – meaning he would miss Sunday’s final against the Sydney Roosters.
Success at the judiciary panel hearing – where Slater was represented by renowned lawyer Nick Ghabar – gives him a chance to end his career on a high with a third premiership.
Ponissi said Tuesday’s ruling had brought a buzz to the club as it sought to become the first in the NRL era to claim back-to-back titles.
He said the value that the Test custodian brought to Melbourne Storm in such a high-stakes match game couldn’t be underestimated.
“We all saw in the preliminary final exactly how important he is,” Ponissi said.
“He’s a vital part of our team for lots of reasons.
“We would have had a wonderful replacement in Jahrome Hughes but there’s only one Billy Slater and the way he’s playing at the moment, especially in big games, you can’t buy that sort of experience.”
Meanwhile, the Roosters have their own personnel trouble ahead of Sunday’s big game. Star halfback Cooper Cronk, who has a shoulder injury, has been named on the extended bench for the match.