Kent: Why fans are real victims in Slater lie-fest
QUEENSLAND'S annual injury scare took a realistic turn on Monday. But it was the game that suffered the real wounds.
Billy Slater, the Queensland fullback and Immortal-in-waiting, was all set to go Sunday.
Nothing had changed by 11am Monday, either, despite the whisper Slater might be more injured than fans were being told.
"We've seen enough from Bill, from his training [Sunday], to indicate he's going to be fine," coach Kevin Walters said at 11am.
This was at 11am. It was beautiful.
Queensland was $2.50 against a team with 11 rookies. The Maroons replaced two key losses, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, with two men who have already played for Australia.
There was no limit to what you wanted to put on the Maroons.
Jack Gibson once said the surest way to make money gambling was backing Queensland as the underdog.
"We were a little bit worried earlier in the week given the state of his hamstring," Walters said, "but after what we saw [Sunday] we're confident that he's going to be fine."
Walters is doing nothing he is now allowed to do. He is no different from any coach anywhere in rugby league.
Why reveal your team and give a sucker an even break?
But who are the real suckers here?
Almost as soon as the press conference was over word went around that Slater was out.
Queensland initially denied it in a couple of backroom phone calls but the jig was up.
Shortly after 3pm a press release hit the electronic mail.
"I didn't pull up as well as I would have liked after our training run on Sunday and, because I'm not 100 per cent, it's in my best interests as well as the team's to withdraw from Wednesday's game," Slater said in the statement.
So Slater is out. About four hours after everybody was assured he was right to play.
Walters did not appear surprised.
"We knew we had some concerns with Billy, but he's a champion player and we needed to give him every chance to play," he said in the same press release.
"We've had plans in place to cover Billy if he didn't come up right, and we've actioned that today with Anthony and Kalyn coming in."
So it was already planned for Anthony Milford and Kalyn Ponga to come into the squad for Slater.
But hang on, the absurdity is not over yet.
Even us average rugby league fans, as basic as we are, know that two into one doesn't go, even in Queensland.
Walters will not be required to declare a starter until an hour before kick-off. Those are the rules.
Sometime, when this game finally grows up, the fans will regain their rightful place as the most important stakeholder in rugby league.
It is a foreign concept to the current regime.
Without the fans, NRL players are playing for $200 in match payments on a Sunday afternoon.
Yet increasingly fans are taken for granted as the game panders to coaches with too much sway and players who don't know where their money really comes from.
It was reported on Monday the TAB and other corporate bookmakers, with whom the NRL have a partnership deal, will hold $15 million on Wednesday night's game.
That is a lot of money, a record, on a game where correct information is crucial.
The NRL is happy to take its percentage of that betting turnover but appears less committed to look after those people who raised it.
With this game set to be the biggest betting game in history, how can the NRL allow Queensland to hide injuries to key players and deny the severity of those injuries?
And then, once the injury is confirmed, not disclose who the actual replacement will be?
Walters thought Slater was fit enough to play at 11am.
Horse trainers have been fined for not disclosing even an elevated temperature before a race.
No Melbourne Cup trainer could ever hope to hold back who was riding his horse as late as an hour before the race.
Yet the NRL plays ignorant.
This is not merely a punting issue.
The NRL is attracting tens of thousands of casual fans through SuperCoach, people who might one day follow the game for more than it's stats, and their greatest frustration is late team changes.
Late changes are a major reason they walk away.
And then there are the fans considering buying a ticket, organising where they might watch it.
At every step the NRL treats the fans like mugs. Last in their order of preference.
Players the calibre of Slater are important to markets.
The Blues came in to the market on the knowledge Thurston and Cronk were not playing.
Then Queensland blew from slight series favourites to overwhelming underdogs - their longest price in 14 seasons - on the late retirement of Cameron Smith.
They went out again after Slater's announcement.
Anybody that bet on this Queensland is a mug.