Billy Slater was given the cold shoulder.
Billy Slater was given the cold shoulder.

Nine stars lose it over brutal TV snub

Plenty of sports stars find it tough to adjust to life after retirement and NRL legend Billy Slater was having some unique problems of his own on Friday night.

Despite landing himself a cushy commentary gig with Channel 9 where he gets to stay involved with the game he loves, he found out life in front of the camera can be just as brutal as lacing up the boots and stepping onto the field.

After South Sydney's 22-18 win over Penrith, Phil Gould joined his Nine colleagues on a post-match panel to discuss him stepping down from his role as general manager of football at the Panthers during the week.

The decision shocked the rugby league world and while many have suggested tension between him and coach Ivan Cleary was behind Gould's exit, both men have denied there's any bad blood.

During the post-match debrief, Gould spoke of his pride at how far the Panthers have come since his arrival in 2011 - both on the field and in terms of what the club has done for the community in Western Sydney. But the real highlight came when the NRL icon finished saying his piece.

Slater stuck his hand out to thank Gould but the 60-year-old gave him the cold shoulder, turning away and taking his earpiece out as he exited stage right. Awkward, right?

But Slater's response was just as brilliant as the snub itself. Despite grasping nothing but air, the former Storm fullback went for an imaginary shake anyway, then grabbed his right hand with his left and gave it a firm wiggle.

Seamless. The man is made for TV.

Erin Molan lost it, laughing her head off as Brad Fittler and Slater both burst out laughing and put their heads on the desk.

At least Billy could laugh at himself.
At least Billy could laugh at himself.

But it was no laughing matter for the Panthers, who slumped to their fifth loss in seven games. However, they showed signs of improvement and according to Cleary, the four-point loss was his side's best performance of the season.

The struggling Panthers were down 10-0 at halftime against the Rabbitohs but pushed Wayne Bennett's side to the wire in an improved performance.

"Easily our best performance, I thought," Cleary said post-game. "I feel like it's something we can definitely build from. I felt we looked likely the whole game, we couldn't quite take our chances."

The defeat leaves the Panthers with just two wins from their opening seven games, and eight points behind ladder-leaders the Sydney Roosters. Only once in eight attempts has Penrith made the finals after the same start.

However Cleary, whose career winning percentage as coach has dropped to 46.6 per cent, insisted there is enough time to turn the season around.

"It's not the start you want, but it's certainly happened before. I've definitely been in this position many times, actually. Too many times, probably," Cleary said.

"But when you're in this position, you can't just win one game here or there. When you get the wins, you've got to start putting a few together.

"And I think what that performance showed me tonight was once we get the smell of winning, we can put a few together and that's all you need to do in this comp."

While halves James Maloney and Nathan Cleary were improved, second-gamer Caleb Aekins impressed at fullback, as did hooker Wayde Egan.

Cleary believed his players found confidence in the effort as well.

"I could see the look on their body language straight after the game. Whilst disappointed, I could see that they at least felt they played alright," he said.

"There's a few other games we had this year where it's a different look. Not only do you lose, but we've had a lot of guys that aren't happy with how they're playing."

The Rabbits just edged out Penrith.
The Rabbits just edged out Penrith.

With AAP


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