Slater’s div­ing claims split­ting opin­ion

Nelson Mail - - SPORT - JA­SON PHE­LAN and SCOTT BAI­LEY AAP

New­cas­tle vet­eran Chris Heigh­ing­ton has called for ref­er­ees to clamp down on sup­posed games­man­ship from Billy Slater af­ter the Kangaroos and Queensland star was ac­cused of div­ing.

Storm team-mate Felise Kau­fusi also leapt to the de­fence of Slater in re­sponse to be­ing taken to task by rugby league leg­ends Brad Fit­tler and Peter Ster­ling over the week­end.

Slater has twice been at the cen­tre of pro­fes­sional fouls this year af­ter he fell to the ground af­ter seem­ingly light con­tact with Cronulla’s Luke Lewis in round four be­fore a sim­i­lar in­ci­dent with New­cas­tle’s Lach­lan Fitzgib­bon on Fri­day night.

Un­der NRL rules, ref­er­ees deem a player has com­mit­ted a pro­fes­sional foul if he ‘‘in­ter­feres’’ with a player af­ter he has taken a quick tap.

On both oc­ca­sions the op­po­si­tion play­ers were sent to the bin fol­low­ing the con­tact, but Fitzgib­bon’s team-mate Heigh­ing­ton be­lieves ref­er­ees needed to be aware of the mat­ter.

‘‘If he [Slater] can get away with it why not do it. It’s one of those things – the refs prob­a­bly have to crack down on it,’’ Heigh­ing­ton said in New­cas­tle.

‘‘At the time out on the field I felt pretty hard done by, but that’s the rules and you’ve got to stick by them.

‘‘He got away with one the week be­fore so I thought they could have been onto it a bit more.

‘‘It was a weak penalty and you get 10 min­utes with­out a player on the field. I don’t think it’s right.’’

Fitzgib­bon wasn’t will­ing to be as crit­i­cal, ac­cept­ing his fault in the mat­ter af­ter he put his hands on Slater in an off­side po­si­tion as he took the quick tap in the 40-14 loss.

‘‘Billy Slater is a leg­end of our game. He’s a com­peti­tor and he does any­thing to win,’’ Fitzgib­bon said. ‘‘The rules are rules. Out­side the 10 play­ers are al­lowed a quick tap and I put a hand on Slater.

‘‘If that’s what the refs are call­ing and are go­ing to play by then I’m fine with it.’’

How­ever, Ster­ling wasn’t so le­nient, la­belling it ‘‘em­bar­rass- ing’’ for the two-time Clive Churchill Medal win­ner.

It prompted Kau­fusi to come to the 34-year-old’s de­fence at Storm train­ing.

‘‘I’m sure Billy doesn’t do that on pur­pose . . . given the cir­cum­stances of the game it might have looked worse than it was,’’ Kau­fusi said. ‘‘Billy’s a great player. He’s got the best in­ter­ests of the game [at heart].

‘‘He doesn’t want to be do­ing any­thing cheap like that, so I’m not sure what you put (that crit­i­cism) down to.’’

GETTY IM­AGES

Mel­bourne Storm’s Billy Slater in ac­tion against the New­cas­tle Knights on Fri­day night.

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