Arvo wrap: Slater, Skando, Cowboys,
Brown

Melbourne fullback Billy Slater will serve his third suspension of the season after copping a two game ban for striking.

Slater accepted the early guilty plea after being slapped with a grade one striking charge for his forearm to the head of Wests Tigers opposite Shannon McDonnell at Olympic Park on Saturday night. The electrifying fullback has already been suspended twice this season for a total of nine weeks over two separate incidents. Slater will now miss Sunday's clash against Brisbane and next weekend's home meeting with the New Zealand Warriors.

Storm teammate Brett White also took an early guilty plea for a high tackle on Jamaal Lolesi but will be free to play the Broncos.

Slater?s coach Craig Bellamy says the player himself is hurting more than anyone. Slater's absence allows fellow Queensland Origin player Greg Inglis to slot back into the fullback position for this weekend's big clash with the Broncos. Bellamy says Slater needs to curb the little moments of madness - but no-one knows that better than the player himself.

Elsewhere, Wests Tigers prop John Skandalis says missing the finals would be more disappointing than playing his last match at Campbelltown Stadium on Sunday.

The Tigers must beat Canberra there this weekend to have any hope of defending their premiership title. Skandalis, who began his career with Western Suburbs at Campbelltown in 1996, says he won't be holding back the emotion as he farewells the ground before heading to Huddersfield to play in the English Super League next year.

The former City Origin representative won't rule out a return to the NRL but says it would not be with any club but the Tigers.

Up north, Gold Coast Titans boss Michael Searle says North Queensland players are using conditioner Billy Johnstone as a scapegoat for their poor form.

Searle says the Cowboys are looking for excuses in blaming Johnstone, who will join the Titans at the end of this NRL season, for their problems. A group of North Queensland players have reportedly raised their concerns about Johnstone's hard-nosed fitness regime to coach Graham Murray.

In other news, the Titans have signed Sydney Roosters centre Lelea Paea to a one-year-deal to leave one spot open in their 25-man roster.

Still on the Cowboys, stand-in North Queensland halfback Aaron Payne will captain the Cowboys for the first time in Saturday's clash against the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland.

Payne has been handed the lead role with regular skipper Travis Norton ruled out with a shoulder injury and vice-captain Johnathan Thurston sidelined with a knee injury. The Cowboys have made several changes for this weekend with Neil Sweeney and Rod Jensen promoted from the Queensland Cup.

Justin Smith moves to five-eighth in Norton's absence.

Meanwhile, St George Illawarra coach Nathan Brown says he will cop his punishment on the chin after being fined $15,000 by the NRL for his criticism of referee Steve Clark.

Brown said he regretted his outburst in which he claimed the Dragons were being unfairly victimised in matches in which Clark was the official. Lack of discipline has been a major problem for the Dragons during their current four match losing streak which has seen the club stumble out of the top four.

Brown said he and his players have vowed to address their problems with officials in the hope of turning around their losing streak.

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