By STEVE MASCORD
MELBOURNE fullback Billy Slater has dismissed Canberra’s complaints about his involvement in a trial match as “irrelevant” while coach Craig Bellamy says he “can’t understand” his former club’s complaint to the NRL over the issue.
A joust between the Raiders and Storm has erupted over Slater playing in a trial between the clubs at Geelong last week despite him pulling out of the NRL All Stars game played on the same weekend.
Raiders chief executive Don Furner said he was told his players would be banned from playing on the same weekend of the All Stars game if they withdrew. Slater said he lacked the match fitness to play at Suncorp Stadium because of a pre-season ankle injury.
When Slater was asked by The Herald in London about his injury, he responded: “Injury? Which one? What are you talking about?
“I never said I was injured. I said I’d missed a couple of weeks of training in the pre-season due to injury but the body’s feeling pretty good at the moment.
“It was just due to lack of fitness and lack of time on the training paddock. I know what it takes to play a representative game of football at that level and I certainly wasn’t in any shape, or didn’t have the fitness under my belt, to play a game like that.”
Asked about Furner’s comments, he said: “That’s my reason. It’s irrelevant what other people say. I know what it takes to play a game of football. I’m comfortable with my decision.”
Bellamy said he didn’t know what the Raiders were “coming at”.
“I know they had some concerns about how many players they had in the All Stars game – that’s probably a fair complaint,” he said.
“At the same time, we didn’t make the rules there. Billy let (NRL All Stars coach) Wayne Bennett know very early. He didn’t start training until after January, he was out a couple of weeks with his injury.
“He didn’t think he’d be ready to play in that game. He did the right thing and pulled out three weeks before. He got a week’s training in before our Geelong trial with the Raiders and we just wanted to play him for 20 minutes to make sure he was right to come over here.
“I can’t believe they had a whinge about it but if they’re trying to make a comparison to how many players they had in the All Stars, that’s a thing they need to take up with the League, not us.”
Proving that the rivalry with the Raiders is only skin-deep, the Storm dined with formula one driver and devout Canberra fan Mark Webber on Friday.
The squad shifted base to Leeds on Saturday, with Slater, Ryan Hoffman and Gareth Widdop in the party which watched Huddersfield beat Wigan 22-10 at John Smith’s Stadium.
Leeds prop Ryan Bailey (knee) and fullback Zac Hardaker (finger) appear certain to miss the World Club Challenge at Headingley on Friday but centre Brett Delaney (hamstring) should be back.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD