Accuracy is what we’re all after in the AFL. Scoring accuracy in our teams, accuracy in our coaches’ decisions, and accuracy in the umpiring.
But it felt like accuracy was lacking this week at the Match Review Panel.
Geelong key forward Tom Hawkins received a two-week suspension, down to one, after clipping GWS player Phil Davis on the chin.
The Cats weighed up going to the Tribunal to challenge the charge, but they decided that the consequence if they lost, where the one-match ban would be extended to the original two weeks, was too great.
“We play the Bulldogs in two weeks at Etihad,” Geelong coach Chris Scott said. “It would be a big risk to lose him for that as well. Risking two weeks, for that …”
Debate has been rife over this particular MRP decision. But the overarching belief is the penalty was too strong for the action.
Now, Hawkins deserves to be sanctioned. He did hit someone in the head and we can’t accept players going in for cheap high shots.
But in comparison to similar decisions, it appears the charge is not quite right and a fine would have sufficed instead.
The first similar scenario that comes to mind is Demon Jack Viney’s hit on Port’s Brad Ebert in Round 10. The second is the Eagles’ Scott Lycett’s “face-tap” (as West Coast media called it) on Tiger Ty Vickery.
In both examples, the force appeared stronger and more direct than the Hawkins’ hit. Both Viney and Lycett also appeared to connect higher as well. Yet these scenarios received the same sanction as the Geelong key forward.
Even the opponent at the centre of the discussion didn’t believe the MRP would look at the incident.
“To be honest, it was more of a shock to me more than anything else,” Phil Davis said. “I must admit I didn’t think there’d be anything said after the game about it.”
“I just thought it was a footballing incident, I wasn’t even sure it was on camera or anything. It was just something that happens a fair bit in footy.”
And as commentator and former player Tim Watson said on SEN, Davis certainly wasn’t injured by the hit.
“It didn’t split his chin, there’s no broken bone, there’s no medical report out of this whatsoever,” Watson said. “It was over-exaggerated, what [Davis] did was delayed.”
In striking comparison, a different sort of contact has become more prolific this season. And the MRP is not doing much to stop it.
In first eleven rounds, there have been ten occasions where players were sanctioned for punching an opponent in the gut. But rather than face weeks on the sideline, these players are only receiving a fine for their actions.
In fact, in direct comparison to Hawkins, Gold Coast’s Tom Lynch only received a $1500 fine for a sucker punch that left Sydney’s Jeremy Laidler doubled over.
MRP member Nathan Burke has admitted that “by standards of football in years gone by, absolutely (the Hawkins’ decision is a little bit soft).” But Burke has not backed down from the call.
“For that type of offence – that is an intentional, low impact hit to the head – two weeks down to one is actually the minimum you can award a player for being found guilty,” Burke said. “There is no element in our system that enables Tom to receive a fine once he is found a guilty.”
But also at this point in time, punches to the body cannot be given a greater sanction.
“The Tom Lynch hit to the body is eligible to receive a fine,” Burke said. “That’s in line with the AFL standards of trying to reduce intentional knocks to the head.”
So, once again, the onus is back to the AFL. Maybe they need to shake up the MRP and change the sanctioning rules at the end of the season.
These scenarios where it’s only ‘push-and-shove’ need to be eased off on, while the more malicious and violent acts need to receive greater penalties.
(First published on The Roar on June 9th 2016)