Former teammates Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk have dominated headlines this week, and not for the reasons we would like.
Former teammates Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk have dominated headlines this week, and not for the reasons we would like. JULIAN SMITH

Slater and Cronk should not play in grand final

BILLY Slater should not be playing in an NRL grand final on Sunday.

In a tangible sense of irony - having made his name in an AFL dominated town - it was an AFL-type hit which sends Slater to the tribunal tonight.

In Aussie rules, the shoulder-on-shoulder hit which Slater laid on Sosaia Feki on Friday night occurs at just about every contest.

But the NRL has decided such a collision is a suspendable offence in their code. Therefore whether you agree with that decision or not, sending Slater to the tribunal was the correct call.

Not because his tackle on Feki was deserving of it on face value, but because in the eyes of the rules of the game that is where it falls. You cannot bend the rules to suit an individual player, not even a great of the game in his swansong.

The problem is not with Slater, who if viewed in isolation produced a spectacular try-saving play. The problem is the interpretation of a rule which was created to stamp out injuries caused by shoulder charges.

In my mind, the rule was introduced to stop shoulder-to-chest collisions, where a player is met front-on by a shoulder connecting with the torso or head.

But this was not such a collision. Slater's covering hit was from the side, away from Feki's chest and connected with his shoulder.

It is difficult to see just how the Sharks flier would have been in any less danger in that circumstance than if Slater had dropped his head and wrapped him up.

Hopefully at the end of the season, the NRL looks at this case and decides to clarify the rule so this series of events does not occur again.

From one 'Storm' superstar to another

ON THE other side of the coin, Cooper Cronk appears less and less likely to have his own fairytale grand final storyline as the former Storm halfback fights time and torture to be fit for Sunday's decider.

Some may say an underdone Cronk is still of more benefit to the Roosters than any would-be substitute the Sydney club could bring - but those people are wrong.

Craig Bellamy does not do nice. Not on the field anyway.

If Cronk crosses the white line on Sunday, then expect his former teammates to test that shoulder at every opportunity.

And if the injury is as extensive as suspected, there is no way Cronk would be able to run out the 80 unless under heavy painkillers and his shoulder strapped to his body.

But doing so would limit his effectiveness with ball in-hand.

Short of some minor miracle - and there have been such examples in big games in the past - the Roosters would do well to shelf Cronk early and find another halves solution.

Momentum proves the difference again

MELBOURNE travelled to Optus Stadium - having won by 17 points at the same venue just over a month earlier - and had their season ended by the Eagles almost by quarter time.

It was a remarkable turn of events that not even the biggest Eagles fan saw coming. Yes the hosts were deserved favourites, but the nature of their victory was shocking to all who flicked the TV over on Saturday afternoon.

Just as the night before, when Collingwood shocked the AFL world by demolishing flag favourites Richmond at the MCG, the Eagles proved momentum is the biggest factor when two sides of similar potential meet in September.

In both matches, it was the side which capitalised on its early opportunities the best which went on to win.

Richmond missed easy set shots and fumbled in pivotal situations; the Pies did not. Likewise the Dees felt a wave of support go against them when the Eagles got their tails up early. Never underestimate the importance of pressure and mental fragility in a match with a grand final berth on the line.

Preliminary finals are considered the hardest to win for exactly that reason. Richmond and Melbourne discovered exactly that last weekend.



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