NRL bungle delays Slater’s judiciary hearing
BILLY Slater's high-profile judiciary hearing has been delayed 24 hours - because the NRL couldn't find a legal counsel to prosecute.
Melbourne Storm pushed hard for the hearing to be held on Monday night at Rugby League Central so Slater knew early in the week whether he would be free to play Sunday's NRL grand final.
The NRL however couldn't find a legal representative, with regular counsel Peter McGrath overseas and his back-up, Anthony Lo Surdo, SC, being interstate.
With both unavailable, the NRL frantically attempted to find a replacement but failed.
Melbourne had worked hard over the weekend preparing for a Monday hearing but will now have to wait until 6pm Tuesday for the matter to be heard.
Privately, the Storm are not impressed. McGrath, a barrister, is understood to be in Italy and told the NRL of his travel plans weeks ago.
The NRL has found a replacement for Tuesday night but could not nail down a counsel for Monday evening.
Many in the game have found it amazing the NRL was unable to find a legal representative for the Monday of grand final week. Reluctantly, Melbourne will now bring Slater to Sydney tomorrow night - 24 hours later than planned.
Slater was hit with a grade-one shoulder charge for his collision with Cronulla's Sosaia Feki during Friday night's preliminary final in Melbourne.
"We wanted it on Monday for the sake of everyone - the player, the club and the game itself," Storm football director Frank Ponissi said.
"We are ready to go tonight if need be but we'll just have to wait.
"It would have been much better on Monday at six o'clock - for the player himself. He wants to get on with it because he wants to know whether he's playing or not. We expressed that to the NRL. It's very hard for him to prepare for a grand final until he knows.
"While we understand the situation, we want to get this over and done with and the game wants to get it over and done with. To be waiting basically four days after it happened … it's a long, long time but it is what it is."
The drama comes as two legends are divided over whether or not Slater should play.
Darren Lockyer, a member of an NRL panel that introduced the shoulder charge rule, believes Slater should play but NSW coach Brad Fittler disagrees.
Speaking on Channel 9, Lockyer said: "The game decided to come down hard on shoulder charges, not just for the players' safety but for the parents to be comfortable that the sport is as safe as it can be.
"To get rid of the dangerous ones out of the game, the lesser ones, such as Billy Slater coming across, have been caught up in that category.
"The charges that have been laid over the three years (since 2015) have come down significantly (in number). It would be crazy to see him rubbed out for a grand final for that play."
Fittler responded by saying: "He (Slater) will sit in front of three people who have to say: 'You can't play next week'. They (the NRL) graded spear tackles in 2014 very high to change the habits of players. Shoulder charges are the same boat.
"If you want to eradicate it out of the game, it (Slater's charge) has got to stick.
"You have to take away from it that it's Billy Slater and a grand final and uphold what they are doing. Fullbacks would say they shoulder charge in (try-saving attempts) because Billy Slater did it."
Sydney lawyer Nick Ghabar will represent Slater.
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