Slater call ‘insulted’ dead player, says brother

BILLY Slater is free to take his place in the Melbourne Storm's grand final side, his farewell game in the NRL.

Slater escaped a shoulder charge citation after a judiciary hearing which took just under three hours - and almost 50 minutes of deliberation.

The decision is causing huge division in the NRL, with many furious at Slater's not guilty verdict for an attempted try-saving hit on Sosaia Feki.

Daily Telegraph journalist and NRL 360 host Paul Kent said the decision set a dangerous precedent.

"This now goes into the game as a precedent as a not guilty decision," Kent said.

"Next year when there are similar instances to this, there will be other people around the game championing that decision saying they got it right, but from now on, as we go forward, this is a legal tackle in the game."

Kent argued penalties needed to increase to eradicate the shoulder charge from the game.

"In order to eliminate a tackle in the game that we don't want in the game for valid reasons you have to put in a penalty that is enough of a deterrent that people don't want to do it," he said.

The brother of the late James Ackerman, who was tragically killed while playing rugby league for the Sunshine Coast three years ago as the result of a shoulder charge, labelled the decision an insult.

"Once again, when the shoulder charge comes into play this bloke right here (he pointed to a picture of James) is mentioned," Andrew Ackerman said earlier in the week.

"Now he is dead as the result of a shoulder charge. I watch 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.

"I am not a keyboard warrior. I want to get on here, show my face and show my feelings.

"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."

Sonya Ackerman at James Ackerman's grave in Caloundra.
Sonya Ackerman at James Ackerman's grave in Caloundra. John McCutcheon

Ackerman recited the definition of a shoulder charge as when a defender doesn't attempt to use his arms or his hands in a tackle or otherwise take hold of the opposing player and the tackle is forceful. He also pointed out that the definition does not include "if a player is going to play his last game in a grand final he should be let off".

"I just want to point out that I have no hate towards Billy Slater or the Melbourne Storm," he said.

"My hate and my family's hate is for the shoulder charge, whether it be minimal, medium or very bad, like what happened to this bloke (points to a picture of James).

"This is a stern warning to Todd Greenberg and the NRL, we've spoken before on this issue, let's just hope you make the right decision, someone, whoever is on the judiciary, makes the right decision."

Addressing Slater, Ackerman said: "Why couldn't you wrap your arms around the bloke?

"You know the rules. Play by the rules. You are a great player, Billy, no one is denying that.

"You have won premierships. You have won Origins …. You have done it all.

"If you happen to miss your grand final come next week because of a shoulder charge so be it."

Former referees boss Greg MacCallum was a guest on NRL 360 on Tuesday night and slammed the shoulder charge rule.

"I think there's too much emphasis on the potential outcome rather than what happens on the field," MacCallum said.

"When you look at tonight's one, you see there's no impact on the head, there is some flex of the neck but was there intent to really put a hit on him?

"I don't think so and I think that's where the 200 points is probably the thing that's going to challenge the game after tonight."

 

Slater led an impassioned defence in the judiciary hearing. The Melbourne fullback stood in front of the panel to explain the move and why he had no choice but to tackle like he did.

"The whole time my intention was to make a tackle," he said. "It happens earlier than I expected to do but I'm still attempting to wrap my right arm. Even with my left arm is trying to wrap underneath. I was still trying to get my body in a position to get between the ball and the try line.

Slater was stonefaced after the decision, but Storm coach Craig Bellamy was pleased.
Slater was stonefaced after the decision, but Storm coach Craig Bellamy was pleased.

"I've got a duty to make a tackle, the duty of care is to myself and player Feki. To ensure I don't make a high tackle is a duty to Feki. I feel the contact that was made was unavoidable once he veered back in. I think the decisions I made ensured the safest possible contact was made."

It was a lengthy speech from Slater who fought for his fairy tale finish in the NRL with a grand final on the line.

Twitter exploded during and after the hearing with plenty of people wanting to put in their two cents, including several former and current players.

 

 

Retiring Sharks star Luke Lewis was a key defender of Slater straight after the match.

He reiterated his defence of Slater and said the matter should have been dealt with during the match.

"I don't condone shoulder charges but what do you do in that situation, he's got to put his body on the line to stop a try so his team can get through to a grand final," Lewis said.

"We've grown up playing football for a long time and we've been taught to stop tries. A try stopped is probably better than a try scored. I think they should have sent him off for 10 minutes and given us an advantage."

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