Late Mail: 'Exhausted' Slater will be ready
Storm football director Frank Ponissi says Billy Slater is a relieved but tired man after his lengthy judiciary hearing on Tuesday night.
Speaking the morning after Slater was cleared of a shoulder charge against Cronulla winger Sosaia Feki, Ponissi admitted the hearing took its toll on the 35-year-old, but expects him to be right for Sunday night's decider against the Roosters.
"He's emotionally fatigued. He's put on a lot of work and sent me countless texts and emails over the last few days," Ponissi said.
"After last night he was just exhausted. He sat there for a considerable amount of time (in the hearing).
"He'll have a lighter training load today, but gradually get into it over the next few days.
"Come the grand final, you'll see the normal Billy."
The Storm felt Slater's tackle wasn't classified as a shoulder charge, but rather a collision from two players "going at incredible speed."
But as it turns out, Slater's incredible dedication to his case proved to be the 'x-factor', according to Ponissi.
"The biggest weapon was Billy Slater himself. I've been going to judiciary hearings for a long time, and I've never seen a player defend himself like Billy did. I think he was an X-factor in the end, along with our defence Nick Ghabar."
The uncertainty around the former Australian Test fullback's availability has made training difficult this week.
Jahrome Hughes was the next man in-line to fill in at the back, but Slater's importance has been underlined by the relief of having him available for one more game.
"I think we all saw last Friday night how important he is. He's a vital part of our team.
"We would have had a wonderful replacement in Jahrome Hughes, a player of the future, who is more than likely to be Billy's number one for next year. But there's only one Billy Slater.
"And the way he's playing at the moment – particularly in big games – you can't just buy that experience."
Would skipper Cam Smith also join his mate into retirement if they win another grand final on Sunday?
"If I was a betting man, I would think he would be wearing the number nine next year in round one for Melbourne," Ponissi said.
Meanwhile Sydney Roosters back-rower Ryan Matterson has suggested youngster Sean O'Sullivan could be getting a run in the halves on Sunday if star playmaker Cooper Cronk is ruled out.
Cronk is a self-confessed long shot to line up in his eighth NRL grand final due to a shoulder injury.
Scans have revealed Cronk "suffered severe damage to his left rotator cuff" in the Tricolours' win over arch-rivals South Sydney, setting the scene for a highly anticipated clash with his former club Melbourne.
Cronk has been named on an extended bench for the grand final and will be given until game day to prove his fitness with a full week of rehabilitation.
Matterson has spent time at five-eighth this season and appears the obvious option to replace Cronk in the halves, with Luke Keary to shift to halfback, but told NRL.com "I haven't been prepping for the halves".
The Roosters are otherwise battered and bruised but unscathed.
Playmaker Anthony Milford will undergo a shoulder reconstruction, while Andrew McCullough requires surgery on a hand injury. Teenage star David Fifita requires ankle surgery and is expected to be back running in eight weeks and to return to full training before Christmas.
Joe Tapine should recover from a broken thumb in time for New Zealand's tour of the UK. Jarrod Croker is recovering from knee surgery but will have no contact at training until after the Christmas break. Ata Hingano and Aidan Sezer have recovered from injuries.
Adam Elliott played for three months with a wrist injury that requires off-season surgery. Raymond Faitala-Mariner continues to work his way back from a knee injury to feature for New Zealand's tour of England in October and November.
Paul Gallen will see a specialist next week with off-season surgery on the cards for his own rotator cuff injury, while Sosaia Feki is also nursing the AC joint issue that forced him off in the loss against Melbourne and is unlikely for any end of year representative games.
Gold Coast Titans
Breakout star AJ Brimson will have surgery on his shoulder but is expected to be fit before round 1 next season. Max King will resume contact following shoulder surgery in December, while teammate Morgan Boyle won't be available with a similar injury until January. Dale Copley (hamstring) and Michael Gordon (wrist) will be available for the start of pre-season.
Kalyn Ponga underwent ankle surgery in mid-September and is unlikely to recover in time for the Kangaroos' Test against New Zealand. Nathan Ross also had groin surgery and is set for a two-month lay-off period. He'll likely miss the opening fortnight of pre-season in November.
James Maloney will consult a specialist regarding the neck injury that has plagued him of late, requiring pain killing injections before each game. Surgery would rule him out of Australia's two end of year Tests in New Zealand.
Halves partner Nathan Cleary (ankle) is also expected to go under the knife for a regulation clean out, while Viliame Kikau (elbow) will also do likewise after playing with ruptured tendons late in the season.
St George Illawarra Dragons
Tariq Sims injured his knee early in the second half of the Dragons' final game of the season against the Rabbitohs on Saturday night and did not return to the field. Sims has been ruled out of the end-of-season representative matches. After that game St George Illawarra head of athletic performance Nathan Pickworth said: "Tariq suffered an injury to his lateral meniscus in his right knee in Saturday's semi-final against the South Sydney Rabbitohs. He underwent surgery on Wednesday to repair the injury and will undergo rehabilitation over the off-season."
Gareth Widdop is set for shoulder surgery after re-dislocating the joint in a big win over Brisbane in the first week of the finals. The season-ending injury to Widdop will also put his international career with England on ice over the off-season.
Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was booked in for knee surgery in grand final week after being diagnosed with a medial ligament and meniscal injury. His expected recovery time is yet to be determined. Meanwhile hooker Issac Luke is set for shoulder surgery as he weighs up an offer from Newcastle.
Josh Aloiai and Robbie Rochow have both undergone hand surgery with Aloiai expected to be fit in time for the start of pre-season. Rochow's injury was more serious than his Wests Tigers teammate but isn't expected to miss too much of the 2019 preparations.