LISTEN TO RICHIE BARNETT TALK WITH D'ARCY AND GORAN ABOVE
The NRL has been accused of using its "third-string" legal counsel against Billy Slater's expertly-prepared and high-powered defence of a shoulder charge.
The Melbourne champion will play in Sunday's NRL grand final after successfully defending his shoulder charge citing in a near-three hour judiciary hearing.
Slater was given an inside line to slip out of the charges against him, according to Fox League's NRL 360 host Paul Kent.
The veteran rugby league commentator tore strips off the NRL administration after it was revealed on Monday the game's foremost legal counsel was unavailable to represent the NRL Match Review Committee at Tuesday night's hearing.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday the game's top judiciary prosecutor Peter McGrath SC was overseas and unavailable for the trial.
His back-up NRL judiciary counsel Anthony Lo Surdo SC was also unavailable on Monday night — forcing the NRL to delay the trial until Tuesday night — reportedly angering the Storm, who wanted the case sorted as soon as possible.
Lo Surdo has featured as the NRL's judiciary counsel on several occasions in the past 12 months — and famously presented the NRL's case when Raiders enforcer Sia Soliola was suspended for five weeks for a high shot on Slater last year.
Soliola's legal defence for that case was Nick Ghabar — who defended Slater on Tuesday night.
Kent on Tuesday described Lo Surdo as the "third string" legal counsel available to the NRL.
He described the NRL's preparation for the case as similar to iconic bumbling lawyer Dennis Denuto, played by actor Tiriel Mora, in the 1997 Aussie classic The Castle.
"What does it say about the game, though, that there's Dennis Denuto prosecuting the case," Kent told NRL 360.
"We've had to do it on Tuesday night because they couldn't get anyone to do it on the Monday night. Here we've got grand final week. It's one of the biggest players in the game. It's his final NRL game after 300-odd NRL games. The greatest fullback to ever play the game. The fairytale finish is on the line and we've had to go to a third-stringer."
Co-host Ben Ikin responded by saying the Storm's possible grand final win will always be linked salaciously with Slater's ability to beat the grade one charge.
Kent said the mistakes made in preparing for Slater's case on Tuesday were symptomatic of the current NRL administration.
"I'll tell you something. When this commission got going five or six years ago now, we all said we need business people with a business brain in rugby league," he said.
"And, I tell you now, we went and got that. We sat through $1 billion spent and nothing to show for it. The game's got smaller. The other thing is we sit here now and I can tell you that the most professional people in that room tonight are the Melbourne Storm. The rugby league people."
Meanwhile, Slater's defence under Ghabar — where the star No. 1 actually stood up and took the tribunal through his thought process as he closed in on Feki — has been described as "unprecedented" by Fox League senior reporter James Hooper.
Slater twice stood up to demonstrate for the panel over course of the hearing, basing most of his defence on Feki's step initiating the collision. He said during the week-long preparation for the final, he had watched vision of all the tries scored by both Sharks wingers across the season — including eight by Feki.
"[If] the Melbourne Storm wins and he gets the Clive Churchill medal, it will come back to the point that choices No. 1 and No. 2 in the list of NRL prosecutors were not available in the most important week of the season," Ikin said.
The Daily Telegraph's Paul Crawley then told the show: "It's embarrassing. It's embarrassing.
"At the end of the day, no matter how you look at it, it is a shoulder charge."
He believed the Sharks winger, as he had done all year, was headed straight for the corner post.
But he claimed he was thrown by Feki's left-foot step and had no time to change.
"When he plants that left foot his intention changes from going directly to the corner post to going directly at me," he said.
"My shoulders and my feet are heading directly to that corner post. He changes and this puts me in a vulnerable position."
Slater then got up again to show why, after seeing Feki proceed to raise his elbow upon impact, he turned his body to protect himself and his opponent from a dangerous collision.
"I've been clocked at 33km per hour at training, and I've got a nanosecond to make a decision," he said.
Even then, Slater's defence argued the first contact with Feki was with the fullback's right hand, and that the shoulder of the Sharks winger had then hit his left pectoral muscle.
It was enough for the judiciary panel to clear him to play on Sunday.