Seven talking points from Melbourne Storm vs Cronulla Sharks NRL preliminary final

The Melbourne Storm are the first team into the NRL grand final after cruising past the Cronulla Sharks in the first preliminary final at home. Here are my talking points from the match.
Should Billy Slater be suspended?
This is a really, really tough one.
If you look at other examples of shoulder charges and the letter of the law, he might be in a lot of trouble.
At the end of the day, Slater tucked the arm and made absolutely no attempt to tackle Feki, who probably would have scored in the corner without Slater doing what he did.
And while it wasn’t dangerous in the slightest, it was a shoulder charge.
Yet, this is the grand final, and you’d hate to see a player rubbed out for something like that.
The base penalty for a bottom grade shoulder charge is a suspension, so Slater is in a lot of trouble if the match review committee find him guilty.
Was this a shoulder charge from Billy Slater?
Given Latrell Mitchell was suspended for his ugly crusher tackle and Greg Inglis only avoided a suspension because of no carryover points, the precedent is there. And who can forget Cameron Smith being rubbed out of the 2008 grand final as the Storm went onto lose 40-0 to Manly, while Issac Luke missed the 2014 decider because of a dangerous throw?
Slater defended himself post-match.
“I was coming across at speed and actually thought Sosaia Feki was going to step back on the inside. It was a collision in the end,” Slater said after full-time,” he said.
“It was one of those things where both players were running at speed to get to a position.
“It would have been an awkward place to place my head if I had to duck down. There was no malice in it, I don’t think.”
The NRL have a huge decision to make – one I don’t envy one bit, but, if we are sticking to the rules, it’s worthy of a suspension.
» Update: Billy Slater has been handed a Grade 1 charge by the Match Review Committee.
Can anyone stop Melbourne?
Whether Slater plays or not will have a huge bearing on the answer to this question.
He is the key to any match the Storm play and proved his worth again last night, going out at the absolute top of his game.
When it comes to big matches, there is no one better and his combination with Cameron Smith is fantastic at the worst of times as they inspire their team to a level beyond what they should be capable of.
But even without Slater, the Storm are going to be hard to beat. Jahrome Hughes would be an excellent replacement, the kicking game and competitiveness of Smith still exists, the coaching of Craig Bellamy isn’t going away and the combination Cameron Munster and Brodie Croft have built is still going to be there.
More importantly, their forward pack, one of the best in the game is still going to exist.
If Slater is there, no one can stop Melbourne, which would have been the way in 2016 had he played and certainly made all the difference last year.
If he isn’t there, well, there is a chance Melbourne won’t go back-to-back.
Billy Slater of the Storm (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)
Luke Lewis – what a career
Before we go any further, let’s give a massive shoutout to Luke Lewis.
The second rower will hang up the boots following the Sharks’ loss last night, but he never deserved to go out behind on the scoreboard, and it was fitting he was the only Cronulla player with a try to his name at fulltime.
Try as he might, he simply couldn’t get Cronulla over the line last night, and by his own admission, would probably admit it wasn’t his finest night on a footy field.
Despite that, you always knew what you were going to get out of Lewis. Every time he stepped on the field, no matter where he was playing, what the circumstance was or how the game was going, you knew you were getting 100 per cent and a solid performance.
He never let anyone down did Lewis and deserves to be celebrated heading into retirement after a fantastic career.
Cameron Smith is still a master out of dummy half
While Slater is a gun – one of the best players to ever step foot on a rugby league field – he is made that much better by Cameron Smith, who seems to improve every player around him.
Whether it was organisation, picking the right plays or his incredibly good kicking game out of dummy half, he didn’t put a foot wrong last night.
I wasn’t counting, but it’s easy to pick at least three or four times Smith turned the tired Cronulla forwards around with a long-range kick, forcing Holmes to work it out of his own end and the backs to burn through plays as the forwards tried to get back onside.
Cameron Smith of the Storm (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Smith is the best dummy half kicker in the competition, and he proved it again last night.
Not just his long-range game either, with a sensational grubber kick for Billy Slater to score his second try of the game on the stroke of halftime.
That try all but sunk the Sharks, and the situational awareness to get the kick away was brilliant.
Cronulla’s halves and Holmes went missing
It was a rough night for Cronulla, and as the old saying goes, if you’re forwards aren’t in the battle, the halves may as well be in the dressing room.
While the forwards did get battered up the middle last night by Melbourne, the kicking game from Chad Townsend was particularly poor.
Even when they did get opportunities at the line, the chime in from Matt Moylan also wasn’t good enough.
Too often, they would pick out Billy Slater, take the wrong option or just put in a plain bad kick.
The impact of Valentine Holmes was also greatly diminished last night. He had some good returns from fullback after kicks, but a solid kick chase from the Storm all night kept him trapped and his popping up in support play or creation for himself was extremely limited.
After such a good game against the Panthers last week, it’s frustrating to try and work out why they were polar opposite this time around, and if the Sharks are to do anything next year, it’s a major issue they must address.
Melbourne’s forwards are hard to stop
If there was one point that could be made about the week off, it’s the obvious impact it had on the battle of the forwards.
While Cronulla were very brave in their efforts, playing understrength and busted up, the Storm dominated them in the middle third of the field all night long.
Whether it was big runs from Dale Finucane, Tim Glasby and Nelson Asofa-Solomona off the bench through the middle, or Joe Stimson chiming in from the edges, it seemed everytime the Storm needed a boost throughout the game, they would get it.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sharks had some very gallant efforts – Matt Prior was strong, and so was Aaron Woods after being called up to the starting side. Bukuya was reliable off the bench as well, but they just couldn’t match what Melbourne were throwing down.
The average metres per run prove the point.
Melbourne had 1,433 metres from 158 runs. Cronulla, 1,416 from 191. That’s a substantial difference in average per run and tells you why the hosts were able to build pressure despite not dominating possession.
Dale Finucane of the Storm celebrates with Cameron Smith (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
This is the end of Cronulla’s premiership window
The Sharks are always a side who are going to be there and about under Shane Flanagan, but this might be the end of their premiership window. It started in 2016, continued for three seasons and probably won’t in 12 months time.
Cronulla have proven the doubters wrong before. A majority thought 2017 was going to be a rough year after losing Michael Ennis, but they had a pretty strong season, as they have done this year.
So, while I don’t want to write them off, I’m saying they won’t be winning the competition.
Not only do they lose Luke Lewis, but Paul Gallen is another year older and may need a bit of luck to last the 25 rounds, Matt Prior is getting on, Jesse Ramien and Ricky Leutele are leaving the club and more importantly Luke Lewis has reired.
What the Sharks have had is a dream run. Maybe they can eek out one more year with Gallen still around, but they rely on their back row heavily, and without wanting to hurt Sharks fans, they won’t be in this position next year.
Roarers, what did you make of the match? Drop a comment below and let us know.

Roosters vs Rabbitohs: The ultra definitive NRL preliminary final stats preview

7:40pm, Saturday 22 September, Alliance Stadium. This is the last rugby league game at this ground.
In 31 seasons there have been some cracking games at Allianz Stadium. The Roosters featured in the very first game here, a 24-14 loss to the Dragons in round one 1988.
The second game at the ground was a 16-14 win to the Rabbitohs over the Roosters.
Now – after 708 games of top grade rugby league, including international and State of Origin matches – the old SFS will host its last league game. It is fitting that a ground that sits in the no man’s land between the Souths and Roosters turf should host this game as its finale.
This game pits the season’s best defensive side against the year’s best attacking side.
However, the crucial factor in this game is carry over points. Greg Inglis had none, so he’ll play in spite of his crusher tackle. Latrell Mitchel conversely had some and will sit out suspended.
That Inglis will be there – with his outstanding experience and leadership – while Mitchell and his stellar attacking game won’t is likely to be the crucial factor that decides this game.
Let’s look at why.
Defence
Team Stats – average per game 2018
Team stats

Stat
Roosters
Rabbitohs
Difference

Line breaks conceded
3.3 (#2 NRL)
3.6 (#4 NRL)
+0.4 Rabbitohs

Missed tackles
21.5 (#1 NRL)
25
+3.5 Rabbitohs

Tries conceded
2.2 (#1 NRL)
3
+0.8 Rabbitohs

Errors
10.8 (#14 NRL)
10.4
+0.4 Roosters

Meters conceded
1400.5
1344.7
+58.8 Roosters

Penalties conceded
8.1
8.3
+0.2 Rabbitohs

Offloads
11.1 (#16 in NRL)
8.6 (#3 NRL)
+2.5 Roosters

With the exception of their errors and offloads conceded, Easts have been the number one defensive side this season. While in no way miles ahead of the Rabbitohs, the tricolours consistency in defence is notable.
Further, if offloads conceded were a telling defensive stat how is it that the number one defensive side would be worst in that category?
Maybe it is about the quality of the offloads I guess, and the Bunnies have quality offloads.
Player Stats

Stat
Roosters
Rabbitohs

Tackles made
J. Friend – 42.9
R. Matterson – 30.7
B. Cordner – 26.8

D. Cook – 38.6
A. Crichton – 30.7
C. Murray – 28.5
S. Burgess – 28.2

Missed tackles
J. Friend – 2.1
L. Keary – 2
B. Cordner – 2
V. Radley – 1.9
S. Burgess – 3.2
D. Gagai – 3.1
D. Cook – 2.1
T. Burgess – 2

Penalties conceded
L. Mitchell – 1
D. Napa – 0.9
J. Friend – 0.8
J. Waerea-Hargreaves – 0.7
S. Burgess – 1.1
A. Crichton – 1.1
G. Burgess – 0.9
A. Reynolds – 0.8
C. Murray – 0.8

Errors
B. Ferguson – 1.3
D. Tupou – 1.3
L. Keary – 1.2
J. Tedesco – 1.2
A. Reynolds – 1.3
C. Walker – 1.2
S. Burgess – 1.2
A. Crichton – 1.1

There are some awesome defenders in both of these sides. Jake Friend is tackling crazy and Damien Cook is not far behind him. Where Sam Burgess’ and Dane Gagai’s missed tackles are a worry for the Rabbits – and they will be targeted – no Rooster is a liability in the defensive line.
Here is one advantage for the Roosters of Latrell Mitchell and Dylan Napa being out: they are the club’s worst penalty conceders. A bit of cold comfort there really.
From these stats, the Roosters are highly likely to win the penalty count. Gus Crichton and Sam Burgess will concede them.
Further, Sam Burgess and Crichton will make errors. He has been averaging four missed tackles and two errors a game over the last six games.
Conversely, the Roosters errors are predominantly committed in attack, not in their own red zone – as evidenced by their leading error merchants.
Attack
Team Stats – average per game 2017

Stat
Roosters
Rabbitohs
Difference

Line breaks
4.6 (#5 in NRL
5.8 (#1 NRL)
+1.2 Rabbitohs

Tackle breaks
27.8
29.2
+1.4 Rabbitohs

Tries scored
3.7 (#3 in NRL)
4 (#1 in NRL)
+0.3 Rabbitohs

Metres made
1446 (#2 NRL)
1460 (#1 NRL)
+14 Rabbitohs

Penalties received
7.8 (#14 NRL)
8.3
+0.5 Rabbitohs

Offloads
6.9
10
+3.1 Rabbitohs

If the Roosters are the season’s best defenders, the Rabbitohs are certainly the year’s best attackers.
When put against each other their strengths virtually nullify each other. The only two things where and real advantage can be gleaned is that the Rabbits overall are 69 metres and 5.5 offloads to the good of the Roosters.
Player Stats

Stat
Roosters
Rabbitohs

Tackle breaks
J. Tedesco – 5.7 (#1 NRL)
L. Mitchell – 4.4 (#4 NRL)
D. Tupou – 3.3
B. Ferguson – 3.1
B. Cordner – 1.4
J. Manu – 2.5

D. Gagai – 3.4
D. Cook – 3.1
A. Crichton – 2.8
C. Walker – 2.8
R. Jennings – 2.7

Line breaks
B. Ferguson – 23
J. Tedesco – 19
L. Mitchell – 18
L. Keary – 10
J. Manu – 10

R. Jennings – 18
A. Johnston – 18
C. Walker – 18
C. Graham – 12

Metres gained
B. Ferguson – 189 (#1 NRL)
J. Tedesco – 181 (#2 NRL)
D. Tupou – 151 (#6 NRL)
B. Cordner – 113

S. Burgess – 132
R. Jennings – 129
A. Crichton – 117
G. Inglis – 117

Tries scored
B. Ferguson – 17
L. Mitchell – 16
J. Tedesco – 9
J. Manu – 7

R. Jennings -19
C. Walker – 12
G. Inglis – 10
A. Johnston – 8

Try assists
L. Keary – 19
J. Tedesco – 18
C. Cronk – 15

C. Walker – 17
A. Johnston – 14
A. Reynolds – 14
D. Cook – 10

Line break assists
L. Keary – 17
J. Tedesco – 17
C. Cronk – 10
J. Manu – 8

C. Walker – 27
A. Johnston – 18
A. Reynolds – 14
D. Cook – 11

Offloads
J. Tedesco – 1.1
L. Mitchell – 0.9
J. Waerea-Hargreaves – 0.7
R. Matterson – 0.7
J. Manu – 0.6

S. Burgess – 1.7
A. Crichton – 1.5
D. Cook – 1.1

How will the Roosters go without Latrell Mitchell? His tackle breaks, line breaks and tries have been essential to their success this year.
However, look at Blake Ferguson and James Tedesco’s attacking stats – they are awesome. The question is how much positive influence does Mitchell’s presence have on their stats? I think it is a fair bit.
A lot rests on Tedesco, Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary to make up for Mitchell’s absence. They certainly have the credentials to do it too.
Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds are such a huge factor in Souths chances. If they are on song, I believe they will win this game.
However, if they struggle – and they can – their opponents will feed on that. Tedesco was made for matches like this.
The wild card is whether Damien Cook can inject his considerable X-factor from dummy half.
The Danger Men
James Tedesco
The number one tackle breaker and the number two line breaker in the NRL this year. Last outing he made 240 metres and eight tackle breaks, while laying on three line break assists and two try assists. He could bust this match wide open.
Blake Ferguson
He may be leaving the Roosters after this season but he’s giving his all to the club. The number one metre gainer in the NRL this season, he has 17 tries to his name. The only question is whether he can do it without Latrell Mitchell on his inside. The Rabbitohs will be hoping the answer is no.
What can Ferguson achieve without Mitchell? (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Luke Keary
The words – as reportedly delivered by Russell Crowe – “You didn’t earn your money last year” signalled the beginning of Keary’s exit from the Rabbitohs, with whom he won the 2014 premiership.
It is a safe bet that Keary would really love to show Crowe just what his value is in this game. His 19 try assists, 17 line break assists and ten tries in just 21 games this season show he is definitely earning his pay from Uncle Nick this year.
Sam Burgess
I reckon big Sam is going to put all of the distractions behind him and show us all just how good he is at football this week. That will mean huge trouble for the Roosters if I‘m right.
Damien Cook
As above, Cook needs to have a big match here. He must be at his attacking best. I reckon he’s due for a blinder.
Greg Inglis
This will be Inglis’ 24th finals appearance. He has won 15 of those. He has won four out of the five that he has played at centre. As he demonstrated in this year’s Origin series, his leadership and big game experience can be incredibly influential. Expect him to assert his dominance in this game.
Tom and George Burgess
If the Rabbitohs want to win this then the twins must dominate. It is as simple as that. They must hurl their huge bodies at the Roosters pack relentlessly and cause havoc. Will they?
The Burgess brothers must rise. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
The History
The Roosters overall record
This will be the Roosters 2378th competition game. They’ve won 1255 of them (52.8 per cent)
The Rabbitohs overall record
This is the Rabbitohs’ 2372nd game since entering the competition. The have a 52 per cent win rate.
Overall between the sides
No two Australian Rugby league sides have played each other more than these two. Dating back to 1908, this will be the 241st game between the sides in all competitions. Easts have won 110, the Bunnies 124, and there have been six draws.
In the Sydney premiership – and its subsequent iterations – this will be the 219th game between the sides. Souths have won 113, the Roosters 99, and there have been five draws.
The last ten
The Chooks have won six of the last ten. That includes four of the last five. The latest match between the two – round 22 at ANZ Stadium – saw the tricolours run out 18-14 winners. However, the Rabbits were without Campbell Graham, Robert Jennings and Greg Inglis, and the victors had Latrell Mitchell and Dylan Napa playing.
At this Venue
This will be the 39th game between these sides at Allianz Stadium. The Roosters have the upper hand, winning 24 of them (63.1 per cent). The last ten have been split five a piece.
Finals
Here’s a weird stat for you: in spite of the massive number of games these sides have played against each other, this will be only their 11th finals match. So, just 4.6 per cent of their encounters have been finals. Further, this will be only their second finals game against each other in the last 80 seasons.
In 2014, the Rabbitohs beat the Roosters 32-22 in the Preliminary final at ANZ Stadium.
The final before that was on August 27th 1938 at the SCG, with Eastern Suburbs triumphing 19-10. That means the two sides have played each other 167 times in 80 seasons with only one finals game in that time.
Last time these sides played in a prelim, the winner went on to taste the ultimate success. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox)
This is the very last game at this stadium and also the first finals game between these two sides here.
Form
By round 11 of this season, the Roosters were sitting in seventh position, having won six and lost five of their games. They only lost three of their remaining 13 games to storm home to the minor premiership.
They’ve played 12 games against the other finalists this season, winning six and losing six. Four of those six losses have come at home. They’ve played other top four sides five times for a three and two record.
The Rabbitohs have won six of their last ten, but three of those losses were against other top eight sides (Sharks, Panthers and Storm).
South Sydney have played 13 matches against the other finalists this season – including the qualifying final and last week’s semi. They’ve lost seven and won six of them. However, against other top four sides they have won three and lost two. Their average score against the other top four sides is a 24-17 win.
The Roosters also have a three and two winning record against the other top four sides but their average score is only an 18-14 win. This suggests a 19-18 win for the Rabbitohs in this game.
Referees
Ashley Klein, Adam Gee
These two have never officiated a Roosters-Rabbitohs game together before, finals or otherwise. This is not surprising, as there has only been one final between these sides in 80 years.
Ashley Klein has run three games between these teams, and Easts have won all three, the last being the 14-12 win here at Allianz in Round 18, 2017.
Adam Gee has run one game. In Round 1, 2016 the Bunnies flogged their rivals 42-10 here at Allianz. There are only five members of the losing side backing up for this match, compared to seven winners.
Klein has controlled 34 Roosters games since 2009. The Roosters have won 19 of them (55.9 per cent). He has controlled 41 Rabbitohs games with the Cardinal and Myrtle winning 20 of them (48.8 per cent).
Adam Gee has controlled 12 Rabbitohs games – including their recent final loss to the Storm – and the Bunnies have won six of them (50 per cent). Under Gee’s control, the Roosters have won five of nine (55.5 per cent).
Finals
The Roosters lost their only finals game they’ve had under Adam Gee. That was last year’s Preliminary Final loss to the Cowboys at the venue. Conversely, the Rabbitohs have lost their only finals match under Ash Klein, their 2015 qualifying loss against the Sharks, also at Allianz Stadium.
Easts’ 40-14 2013 Preliminary final win over the Newcastle Knights was controlled by Klein, and it was also at Allianz Stadium.
Who is going to win and why
The Latrell Mitchell out is a big one, but the minor premiers still have Cronk, Cleary and Tedesco, so it’s not exactly like they are without extreme attacking class.
If that triumvirate gets on to,p then the Roosters will win. However, their pack is not stellar. They are very good and dependable, but they aren’t match winners.
Their opponents’ pack can definitely be match winners.
I’ve felt that this year the Roosters have won matches because their backline venom was so damn good it compensated for their lesser pack.
The removal of Mitchell dampens that venom – and gives the Rabbitohs a target in Joseph Manu.
If Souths are able to put off field distractions out of their minds – if – I think they’ll win narrowly.
Statistically predicted score: Roosters 20.4 – Rabbitohs 19.6
Prediction: Rabbitohs 1-12

Melbourne Storm spear the Sharks, look unbeatable in 2018

It was set up as potentially one of the most brutal and robust games of the season.
Two teams were prepared to grind through the middle and niggle and grapple their way to an ascendancy in the ruck. Both would then look to parlay that dominance into attacking explosions out wide on the back of their ‘go to’ men.
The home side would call on an excellent record at AAMI Park, channel the grand final victory of 2017 and aim to set up a fitting farewell for club legend Billy Slater.
The visitors from Sydney’s shire would only have to cast their minds back five weeks for belief. On that day they out-stormed the Storm in Melbourne and it went a long way towards guaranteeing a top four finish.
Thus, the Cronulla Sharks travelled to Melbourne to face the best team of the modern era, in a match to determine the first of two grand finalists.
If season 2018 has taught us anything, it is that predictability doesn’t exist in the NRL.
Strangely, the Storm defied that logic and did what many thought they would against the Sharks at AAMI Park.
In the end, it was a comfortable harpooning for the Storm, as they speared the Sharks to the tune of 20 to zip in the first half and continued the cull in the second.
Cameron Munster of the Storm (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)
Cronulla had a moment or two in the first forty, yet it was a controlled and disciplined first half from the Storm that set up an unassailable lead.
A double to Billy Slater and a brilliant try to Brodie Croft established a comfortable margin at the break and Scott Morrison was reportedly spitting chips in Kirribilli. His boys from the insular peninsular had their pants well and truly pulled down by the southerners.
The best front runners in the game were never going to let such a lead slip and set about grinding the visitors into the dirt in front of their home fans. It made a considerable statement to both the Roosters and Rabbitohs, who will belt the living heck out of each other later on tonight.
Whichever Sydney team manages to scrape over the line and earn the right to face Craig Bellamy’s men had better recover well and strategically plot a course of action far more effective than the one that the Sharks took into the Preliminary Final.
An early disallowed second-half try teased the Sharks but it took them the best part of 70 minutes to eventually cross the line. They did so with 11 minutes remaining when Luke Lewis scored a fitting try to round off a superb career with the Sharks, Panthers, New South Wales and Australia.
It reduced the lead to 22-6 in favour of the Storm after Cameron Smith had added a penalty goal early in the half.
From then on, the Storm did what they do so well and Bellamy will be proud of his teams’ execution of the game plan.
It was a plan that the Sharks and many others before them, were far from matching let alone combating, and it sends the Storm into yet another grand final.
If you find the Storm’s consistency a little boring and can’t quite work out how one little club in an AFL stronghold continues to appear at the pointy end of the NRL season, look no further than Craig Bellamy, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.
They have been doing it for quite some time and despite the best efforts of the perennial challengers, the antidote to their dominance is yet to be found.
Good luck to the Roosters and the Rabbitohs. It will be an epic clash in Sydney tonight. The winner will have high hopes but I’m not quite sure either will have the tools to combat the clinical precision of the Melbourne Storm.

Billy Slater can mount a serious challenge to a shoulder charge

This article has nothing to do with the probability Billy Slater will miss next Sunday’s grand final if he’s found guilty of a shoulder charge from last night’s preliminary final against the Sharks.
It would be a tragedy if the 35-year-old fullback, arguably one of rugby league’s greatest footballers, ended his stellar career suspended, forced to watch his Storm teammates in the decider from the stand.
If he’s done the crime, he must do the time – there’s no argument.
But did Slater actually shoulder charge in the true meaning of the law?
Law-makers brought in the rule to stop defenders shoulder charging front-on and not using their arms.
That’s obviously a very dangerous ‘tackle’ of two players coming from opposite directions in a very physical collision.
That could create serious injuries like whip-lash where the spinal cord could be severed, and if the shoulder contact is lower causing busted ribs, and punctured lungs.
Not on – a very wise, and long overdue, law change.
But Slater wasn’t front-on, he was side-on to Sharks winger Sosaia Feki.
Was this a shoulder charge from Billy Slater?
He came from 90 degrees, where Slater’s left shoulder first came into contact with Feki’s right shoulder.
And Slater’s right arm was clearly visible across Feki’s chest, with Slater’s right arm across Feki’s left shoulder.
So it was never front-on, and Slater’s right arm was involved in the tackle.
Those are two damn good reasons why it didn’t qualify with the letter of the law of a front-on, no arms collision – a shoulder charge.
In fact, I very much doubt law-makers ever had a side-on shoulder charge in mind. They just wanted to rightfully stamp out the extremely dangerous front-on shoulder charge with no arms involved.
That hasn’t stopped the knockers going into meltdown on social media demanding Slater’s suspension, with many adding Feki should have been awarded a penalty try.
What a load of hysterical crap.
And only because it’s superstar Billy Slater for some tall-poppy chopping.
What makes it even more farcical is Slater is the smaller man by some distance.
He’s 178 cms tall, stopping scales at 89 kgs – Feki is 188 and 101 – no wonder Slater bounced off the Tongan.
So on the evidence of countless television replays, if Billy Slater is rubbed out of the big dance it will be a travesty of justice, and not what the law-makers had in mind when they brought the shoulder charge into play.

Slater is guilty but shouldn’t miss the grand final

‘Them’s the rules’ is an awful excuse.
I get why the shoulder charge needed to be banned. I didn’t like it at first but I get it. Shoulder charges can be a high risk, poorly controlled method of tackling.
Players were getting injured and as awareness of the consequences of head trauma increased it wasn’t tenable for the game to allow this tackle to continue.
Instead of carefully weighing up the best way to minimise the risk while maintaining the integrity of the game, the NRL impulsively jerked its knee and implemented a one-size-fits-all ban on the shoulder charge.
A grade one shoulder charge carries a 200-point penalty. That’s two games, pending discounts for early guilty pleas, for anything that’s deemed to be a shoulder charge.
The absurdity is that the shoulder charge was banned to prevent concussions, yet a shoulder charge that makes absolutely no contact with the head stills gets 200 points.
But wait, it gets worse.
A grade one careless high tackle carries zero points and ‘just’ a $1,500 fine as a penalty. A grade two careless is 150 points.
You’ve got to get to a grade three careless high tackle to get to 200 points which is the same as a grade one shoulder charge.
The problem with this is a high tackle is defined by the NRL as “contact with the head or neck” yet there are two gradings of ‘head high’ tackles which are deemed better – in this era of concussion awareness – than any shoulder to shoulder contact shoulder charge.
If we’re trying to minimise the risk of players sustaining head trauma and concussion injuries how is it that a tackle defined by its contact to the head has to get to a grade three before it’s treated as seriously as ANY shoulder charge, regardless of where contact is made?
Every week we see high tackles where the on-field penalty is deemed sufficient.
Billy Slater threw his body at Sosaia Feki to stop him scoring. It was a shoulder charge. No doubt about it. The arm was tucked and he led with the shoulder. It was brilliant.
In the 2011 Four Nations Tournament, Slater shattered his collarbone in five places performing a similar tackle before it was outlawed.
(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)
The bravery to do it again, albeit seven years later, is almost unfathomable. But the game was on the line. Isn’t this exactly what we want from our heroes?
Slater didn’t make contact with Feki’s head.
He didn’t put Feki at risk of concussion – which is why the shoulder charge was outlawed in the first place.
He doesn’t deserve to miss a game – let alone a grand final – let alone his last ever NRL game.
Slater has played 318 NRL games. He sits second in the all-time leading try scorers list.
He’s won a Dally M, two Churchill medals and a golden boot as the world’s best player. He’s the best fullback I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t deserve to go out like this.
But all that is irrelevant. It’s not just about Billy’s fairytale, a rookie in his first season wouldn’t deserve this.
With an ill-considered, knee-jerk response rule the NRL has put itself in a position where it either needs to rub out one of its greatest players for his final game or compromise the integrity of their judicial system.
No win.
Worse again, is that regardless of which path it takes the NRL has hijacked the grand final lead up with its own incompetence. Again, no win.
The answer was so simple, ban the shoulder charge.
All shoulder charges attract an on-field penalty and a fine but only shoulder charges that make contact with the head attract a suspension.
Make it a massive suspension. Make it four or five or six weeks. That was the behaviour we were trying to eradicate from the game – not tackles like Slater’s.
That tackle should never have been made illegal, it’s what the game is all about.
I hope the NRL, the match review committee, and the judiciary find a way to get Slater off. I hope they find the intestinal fortitude to change this ill-conceived rule.
I want to see Billy Slater play one last time and for to have the farewell he deserves, win, lose or golden point.
I don’t want to see anyone else rubbed out for displaying the selfless courage our game demands.
Now, let’s talk about the seven-tackle restart rule…