Slater charged: Extraordinary angle shows twist
MELBOURNE superstar Billy Slater's grand final fairytale could be over after reports on Saturday morning that the NRL has charged him with a grade one shoulder charge offence.
The charge could end Slater's career in the cruellest fashion after he delivered a stunning solo performance in the Storm's 22-6 win over Cronulla in the grand final qualifier at AAMI Park on Friday night.
The NRL is expected to confirm on Saturday that Slater will serve a minimum two-week suspension for his controversial tackle on Sosaia Feki - an offence that carries a minimum 200 demerit points.
Slater will now have to try to fight the charge at one of the biggest judiciary hearings in the game's history.
Shock evidence emerged on Saturday that could in fact see Slater freed to play in the grand final.
Video replays of Slater's charging hit on Feki froze the entire NRL world as commentators immediately declared the star No. 1 could be suspended for next Sunday's NRL grand final at ANZ Stadium.
Legends, including Andrew Johns, Johnathan Thurston, Brad Fittler and Peter Sterling told Channel 9 that it didn't look good for Slater - under the current rule interpretations surrounding shoulder charges.
However, it is the rules themselves that could set Slater free to play the winner of the Roosters and the Rabbitohs next week.
A charge would attract 200 demerit points, enough to rule him out of next Sunday's decider. The former Kangaroos and Queensland fullback would need to successfully fight the punishment at the NRL judiciary to have any hope of ending his career in the ANZ stadium showpiece.
NRL commentators on Friday night and Saturday morning pointed out that a technicality in Slater's tackling technique that went overlooked during the live broadcast of the game could prompt the NRL MRC to evaluate Slater's hit as a legitimate tackle.
Under NRL rules a player can be charged if the contact from a shoulder charge is forceful or if the player did not use, or attempt to use, his arms (including his hands) to tackle.
TV replays showed Slater's right arm briefly hovered near the ball in Feki's hands - potentially proving the star fullback was trying to execute a tackle and did not negligently smash Feki with his shoulder.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan agreed in his press conference after the game, declaring Slater should be allowed to play because of his hand position.
Flanagan could prove to be Slater's most important character reference this week after declaring that Slater won't have a case to answer.
"I thought he had a hand in there actually," Flanagan said.
"What do you want him to do there? I'm not quite sure. 100 per cent, he'll be there next week, or he should be."
Cronulla's Luke Lewis also leapt to the defence of Slater, implying the game's gone soft if the Melbourne superstar is banned for his farewell NRL grand final.
"What do you want him to do?" Lewis said.
"He's one of the best defensive fullbacks in the game and you have to stop a try and put your body on the line.
"If someone was to miss a game for something like that, I don't know what our game would be coming to. It's a contact sport.
"I don't think there was anything in it to be honest. If there's anyone I want see play on grand final day, it's Billy Slater."
Slater told Channel 9 after the game that he only carried out the shoulder charge because he was unable to avoid putting his body in any other shape while charging in at Feki at high speed.
"I was just coming across at speed, I actually thought Sosaia Feki was going to step back on the inside and there was a collision," Slater said.
"In the end it was one of those things where both players were running at speed to get to a position, it would have been an awkward position to put my head in if I had to duck it down.
"There was no malice in that or anything."
If Slater was to be charged, he would follow in the footsteps of captain Cameron Smith who missed the 2008 grand final due to a suspension.
Former South Sydney hooker Issac Luke is the last big name to be ruled out of a grand final at the judiciary after being charged with a dangerous throw in 2014.
The mammoth implications of Slater's tackle continues to divide NRL commentators.
Legends, including Andrew Johns and Phil Gould have called on the NRL to allow Slater to play because the rules are unfair.
Others want Slater to play because he deserves to go out on grand final day.
There are still those that believe the NRL can't afford to let Slater play.
- with AAP