West Perth might be wishing they had spoken to Carlton last week before accepting a three-week suspension for defender Nathan Alexandre.
In a move that angered president Neale Fong and concerned coach Darren Harris, the Falcons decided against contesting Alexandre’s rough conduct charge from the game against Peel. West Perth actually received a free kick from the incident in which Alexandre bumped rising star Neil Erasmus whose head then struck that of opponent Aidan Lynch who was approaching the contest.
That free kick was obviously an error because Alexandre was subsequently charged with rough conduct.
And under the WAFL’s sentencing matrix, the match review panel’s assessment of intentional conduct, high impact and high contact drew a four-match ban with one game reduced for an early guilty plea.
But while there was every chance that Alexandre could have beaten the charge if he had appeared before the WAFL Tribunal, or had the levels downgraded enough to get a reduced penalty, West Perth did not want to risk the player getting an extra match. Three games or four? That shouldn’t matter much over a fringe player.
There are several elements to the matter that bear examination.
They include the comparison to Carlton’s Lewis Young who was charged over his heavy bump on North Melbourne’s Cam Zurhaar only to have the AFL Tribunal clear him of any offence. Confirming the football reality that the bump is not dead, despite loud and constant noise to the contrary, the tribunal found that a player could act reasonably while inflicting a serious injury on an opponent.
In one of the most farcical comments ever made by an AFL official, and one suspects part of the reason for the eventual tribunal decision, prosecutor Andrew Woods argued: “One of the things (Young) could have done to avoid contact is he could have veered to his left and accelerated out of the contest”.
Accelerated out of the contest? Run away from the ball? Does the AFL actually know what game is being played under its name?
Competing for the ball is the foundation of football. Running away from the contest would start to unravel the tapestry of football and make it a different sport.
In Alexandre’s case, he was a step behind Erasmus as they approached the ball and appeared to deliver a legitimate side-on bump to the shoulder of his opponent.
Unfortunately for Erasmus, the bump knocked him off balance and he was unable to avoid clashing heads with Lynch who was approaching from the other side.
Yet where was the offence? A player shouldn’t be found liable of an offence if he acted within the rules and there is a subsequent adverse outcome. Will a player who uses an opponent as a stepladder to take mark of the year be suspended if his knee crunches a head on his ascension?
The Alexandre tribunal defence should have been straightforward except that West Perth were gun-shy and wanted to avoid one extra week’s suspension.
The second issue is the quiet change to the make-up of the match review panel that has been coupled with the WA Football Commission’s crackdown on head contact as part of the anti-concussion trend in the game.
For many years, Phil Lamb was an independent member of an MRP that included two WA Football Commission employees.
Lamb is a Subiaco premiership player, 228-game WAFL veteran, State chairman of selectors and long-time television and radio commentator. His knowledge, balance and experience helped him provide valuable insights to the MRP but, after mixing the role with his position as a WA football commissioner last year, it was decided that he had a conflict of interest and was required to stand down.
The MRP now comprises WAFC employees Luke Sanders, Dean Horsington and Tim Marley, none of whom have played league football, though the former two were club football managers, who are representing a body with an avowed commitment to removing head-high contact from the league.
It is not too much of a stretch to think they might be in furious agreement on matters that come before them and that an obvious outcome is going to be stricter penalties on any head contact.
And don’t be surprised if more clubs take matters to the tribunal if the early season trend continues.
It has taken three stints and six years but Jon Marsh finally reached a significant milestone when he played his 50th match for East Fremantle on Saturday. The big utility is in ripping shape and playing the best football of a career that includes time at Collingwood and St Kilda. He kicked six against East Perth, including four in the first quarter, and is set to be one of the first named when the State team is confirmed next week.