Storm coach Craig Bellamy says moving the NRL judiciary hearing forward by 24 hours would have eased the stress on Billy Slater and should have been the preferred option.
Speaking to NRL.com the morning after Slater was cleared by a panel of three former players of a shoulder charge on Cronulla winger Sosaia Feki, Bellamy felt it wasn't the ideal way to handle matters when a player, his teammates, and club, are trying to prepare for a grand final.
Slater is now free to play for Storm in Sunday's decider against the Sydney Roosters.
Judiciary hearings are normally held on Tuesdays, but have been brought forward in the past to accommodate the needs of clubs and the NRL. Slater's case could not be moved because of the unavailability of members of the NRL's legal counsel.
"It's been really hard to be quite honest," Bellamy said on Wednesday after arriving home from Sydney late Tuesday night.
"We didn't want to say it before, but the hearing got put back a night. We were hoping for Monday night but for whatever the reason with someone being overseas – and I don't know exactly what happened there – but that extra day just made it extra hard on Billy.
Billy Slater cleared of shoulder charge
"He's trying to get ready for a grand final. It's what you play footy for but it has more for him as it's his last ever game of footy.
"Obviously there's been a lot in the media and whatever about it, but we needed to get that over and done with as early as we could.
"The delay for 24 hours didn't help anyone. But as Billy said, we got a fair hearing last night.
"With all due respect, and people will call me biased or one-eyed, to me common sense prevailed. That [tackle] wasn't what the shoulder charge is about. And I'll just leave it at that."
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg stood by the judiciary's decision but also the league's actions in stamping out the shoulder charge.
"We have a pretty diligent system here, all underpinned by independence, and ultimately when Billy Slater's charge goes up it goes up against three former players with great experience in the game," Greenberg told Macquarie Sports Radio.
"So I'm very comfortable with the system, but one thing we won't be changing is our stance on the shoulder charge – player safety is the absolute priority of all of our decision making, so we've got to continue to be vigilant in that area."
"I'm comfortable [with the decision] because the process is strong. What we found last night with the not guilty plea was the match review will continue to charge players who make those sorts of tackles but ultimately if it does get to the judiciary it will be judged in an independent forum, which is important, it's a really good thing for us.
"There's a reason why we have big points penalty for grade one shoulder charges because we've got to have strong deterrence. We've slowly eradicated shoulder charges out of the game, and we stand by that and will continue to do that."
The Storm are not the only ones experiencing disruption in grand final final.
The Roosters are intensely managing the welfare of halfback Cooper Cronk and his injured left shoulder. The former Test No.7 rated his own chances of playing on Sunday as "a long shot" but he is giving himself up until the final hours to see if he can make it to an eighth Telstra Premiership grand final – his previous seven were with Bellamy's Storm.
And the lengthy friendship the pair have after spending 14 seasons together can't be overlooked.
"You want your team to win but this [situation] is a little more than that," Bellamy told NRL.com. "Because I've been involved with him for as long as I have, I'd hate to see him miss a big game like this.
"Everyone at the Melbourne club thinks the same. We know how good a player he is and how important he is to that team.
"And I know they are our opponents on Sunday but at the end of the day, it's more important than just that. No-one wants that (a player missing grand final) to happen and how he would feel about that.
"So we'll just have to wait and see."
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