It is difficult to imagine any other outcome than Billy Slater playing the final game of his career in the Grand Final.
He was freed to play in the final game of the season against Sydney as the Match Review Panel, who was reviewing the grade one charge levied against him for his shoulder charge on Sosaia Feki in the preliminary final.
Getting clearance to finish his illustrious career required all the expertise of lawyer Nick Ghabar and the outcome of the review is that Slater has the opportunity to cap things off with his third premiership over the course of over 300 games with Melbourne.
It is hard to avoid cynicism and say that if it were any other player or any other circumstance, the possible one-game suspension would have stood, but Slater’s argument about his try-saving tackle in the victory over Cronulla swayed the panel.
“The whole time my intention was to make a tackle. It happens earlier than I expected to do but I’m still attempting to wrap my right arm. Even with my left arm is trying to wrap underneath. I was still trying to get my body in a position to get between the ball and the try line,” Slater said.
The nature of the game is such that moments like the one Slater was describing happen in a fraction of a second and some who attended the hearing described Slater’s MRP tactic as equal to anything he produced on the field.
The outcome brought obvious joy to Melbourne, but perhaps some dismay to Sydney, whose chances obviously would have been boosted by the absence of one of the best fullbacks ever to play the game.
The MRP cannot be accused of a failure to give the incident a proper look. They took almost three hours to reach their conclusion, properly so, because to finish one of the best competitions the NRL has ever produced with one of the best players missing would have been anticlimactic in the extreme.