Is resting players a subtle form of tanking?

Dan Lonergan Columnist

By Dan Lonergan, Dan Lonergan is a Roar Expert

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    Fremantle coach Ross Lyon is very much his own man. He doesn’t care who criticises him, especially the media.

    Who could forget his performance almost two years to the day at his first press conference as the Dockers new coach, just a day after Fremantle pulled off footy’s great heist sacking Mark Harvey and then only a couple of hours later announcing Lyon had replaced him.

    This move took everyone involved in the game by surprise, particularly the team he was coaching at the time, St Kilda, who thought he was going to sign a new contract that day.

    Lyon had to contend with an unimpressed group of Western Australian journalists, all miffed with the way Harvey had been replaced by him.

    But he didn’t bat an eyelid – he stood by his convictions and took the attiude ‘if people don’t like it, bad luck!’

    This again was exactly how he handled his controversial decision to rest half his team for last Saturday’s last home-and-away match against the Saints at the Docklands, knowing that they were going to have to travel to Victoria again next week for the qualifying final with Geelong.

    The Dockers had six players who had played five games or less and ten who had played less than 20 and were thrashed by the 16th placed Saints, who were farewelling three retiring stars in Stephen Milne, Jason Blake and Justin Koschitzke.

    Lyon had before this match already conceded Geelong would beat Brisbane at Kardinia Park and finish second, consigning his side to third, so he thought this game was basically a dead rubber and it would be ideal to give many of his regulars a change to recharge their batteries.

    However, it almost backfired, with the Cats pushed all the way by the Lions and eventually hanging on by just one point.

    As Lyon said in his press conference after the match once the Geelong result came through, it was a calculated risk that came off.

    But what if Brisbane did win?

    By deciding not to take their game seriously, the Dockers would have blown a golden opportunity to finish second and host a home final in the first week.

    Although it’s in the rules, what Lyon did – and he has done it before, when in charge of the saints in 2009, when they dominated the home-and-away season – it’s certainly not in the spirit of the game and he’s actually showing disrespect to the competition and Brisbane.

    You hope the Lions players have long memories when the two clubs meet in 2014 and try and prove to Lyon and Fremantle they deserve their respect.

    Could the Dockers’ tactics be seen as bringing the game into disrepute under rule 1.6?

    That was what the Bombers were charged with regarding their supplements scandal and they received some significant penalties including not being allowed to play in the finals.

    Essendon have been punished for poor governance more than anything else, but who’s to say Fremantle didn’t tank?

    They didn’t bring their best side across and the reason for not selecting many of their best players was they were being rested.

    At the moment there’s no rule not allowing clubs to do that and you have seen the teams who sealed their spot in the eight weeks ago managing their list and giving players break, but not half a team.

    While there isn’t a rule in place stopping this practice, teams will continue to do it near the end of the season if they are in finals, especially if, like Fremantle are, they are travelling in consecutive weeks.

    League CEO Andrew Demetriou, in a radio interview on the ABC on Friday, said they were not impressed with Fremantle’s actions and they are monitoring it.

    They need to discourage it by bringing in a rule ensuring all teams pick the strongest side they can every week.

    The way the Dockers approached this match, they could be accused of tanking, which Melbourne were investigated for.

    The AFL has always stated tanking doesn’t exist, but the Demons were still penalised for bringing the game into disrepute, because written documentation showed there had been discussions about compromising the game plan and even team selection in 2009.

    Two officials, then coach Dean Bailey and football manager Chris Connolly, were suspended.

    The Dockers had no intention of beating the Saints, even though Lyon’s old team had won just four games for the season, so what’s the difference between that and what Melbourne were accused of doing in 2009 to ensure they got the first two picks in that draft (which they ultimately did in Jack Tremgove and Tom Scully)?

    I would say nothing, but because clubs can choose any team they like, the AFL can’t prosecute them.

    But they wouldn’t want a repeat of it and could be looking to make changes.

    This controversy, as usual, is water off Ross Lyon’s back and he doesn’t care what people think.

    He will just concentrate on his manic preperation for the clash against the Cats and, although it will be almost impossible to beat Geelong at the cattery, where they have tasted defeat just once since 2007, Lyon will do everything in his power to make the Dockers tough to play and score against next Saturday.

    If they cause a boilover, his decision to rest half a team, which remains in the rules, will allow Lyon to have the last laugh yet again.

    Hang on! Have you ever seen Ross laugh?

    Dan Lonergan
    Dan Lonergan

    Dan Lonergan is one Australia's most respected and versatile commentators. In more than 16 years on ABC Grandstand he has covered AFL footy (including four Grand Finals), cricket, tennis, and three Olympic Games, including London 2012 where he commentated 16 sports.

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    The Crowd Says (68)

    • September 3rd 2013 @ 1:44am
      Edan Nissen said | September 3rd 2013 @ 1:44am | ! Report

      The description of tanking should be when a team manipulates the result of the game (intentionally loses) for benefits, such as better placement for draft picks, better draw in the following season, financial reasons (match fixing).

      A team should be allowed to rest players, because Freo doesn’t get anything out of the loss, and it means fans have the opportunity to see stars that aren’t carrying a season’s worth of bumps and bruises coming at the pointy end of the season. This is especially so as Freo have earned the right to be comfortable in their position by winning enough games earlier. If Freo needed to win that game for a top 4 I’m sure Lyon wouldn’t have rested the stars.

      • September 3rd 2013 @ 10:05am
        Franko said | September 3rd 2013 @ 10:05am | ! Report

        You are spot on, Freo gained nothing from the loss whereas Melbourne did.

        The problem is however, the AFL never found Melbourne guilty of tanking. So if you accept the AFL’s wisdom that Melbourne did not tank but they also didn’t try their hardest to win, how is it different to Melbourne?

        I think fans know what is right and wrong, but the AFL have put themselves on a slippery slope.

    • September 3rd 2013 @ 2:57am
      Jake said | September 3rd 2013 @ 2:57am | ! Report

      Of course it’s tanking. They’ve gone into the game with a side more fit for seconds football which had zero chance of winning the game. While this had no big effect on their season it does open the door for anyone in the know to leak a bit of info and suddenly people are making big money on a game that would have seen Fremantle starting big time favourites. If any team goes into a match so obviously with the intention of being uncompetitive then they should be punished.

      • September 3rd 2013 @ 4:13am
        joe blackswan said | September 3rd 2013 @ 4:13am | ! Report

        If your team had already earnt the double chance, and also travelled up to 4 times the distance of other clubs over the season, and had to do back to back trips across the country …you would call it list management. Only a fool would claim it as tanking….otherwise all teams that rest players, regardless of number, are technically “tanking”. Still, if it effects the integrity of gambling on AFL games perhaps we should introduce new laws…like if a team runs an uncontrolled drugs program they should lose all their points and finish last accordingly…not ninth.

        • September 3rd 2013 @ 2:23pm
          daniel p said | September 3rd 2013 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

          I cannot believe this article is not a joke!

      • September 3rd 2013 @ 9:25pm
        Bayman said | September 3rd 2013 @ 9:25pm | ! Report

        Jake,

        You assume the intention was to be uncompetitive, as opposed to just resting key players for the finals next week.

        I assume that most people think tanking involves actually trying to lose. I’m sure Ross Lyon was hoping his team would do well even if the possible outcome of such an action was a loss to the Saints. It doesn’t mean he was actually trying to lose. Every selected player had an opportunity to impress the coach for future reference.

        I’m sure even Lyon was aware he was somewhat handicapping his team but I bet he wasn’t trying to lose. So not tanking but list management. That said, I imagine the AFL will soon be putting in place rules where this sort of thing carries some penalty in future.

        The issue of the impact on betting, as far as I’m concerned, is not Freo or Ross Lyon’s problem. The teams were announced according to the timing requirements of the AFL so anybody who then bet on Freo is probably an idiot. If they bet before the team was announced that’s their problem and I have no issue with Freo on that score.

    • September 3rd 2013 @ 5:21am
      Daws said | September 3rd 2013 @ 5:21am | ! Report

      I had a massive rant prepared in response to this piece, but having re-read it I have decided to illustrate the problems with introducing a “teams must always be as competitive as possible” rule more delicately.

      1) What time frame does this encompass? Does it mean as competitive as possible this weekend? This year? Over the next 5 years? Each time frame has very different means to achieving their ends. E.g. When the Dockers were first inducted into the AFL they opted to field a team of mainly veterans with some younger talent, which ended up in a mildly competitive team at first, but set them back years later on. On the other hand, GWS and Gold Coast have both gone for predominately younger teams mixed with a few veterans, and in their first two years neither was remotely close to being competitive consistently, but most people realize that this approach will come to fruition in the future. Should we penalize them for tanking too?

      2) Having earned their right to play finals it is conceivable that at least some of the rested Fremantle players were tired, bruised and battered from a long season playing a demanding game style. While they may have been able to play if their season was on the line, by working harder than their opponents earlier in the year they have earned their rest, who are you or I (or the AFL for that matter) to tell them that they have to go and hurt themselves further for our entertainment. The thought is sickening. On a related side note I’m disappointed (to say the least) that you mentioned the Essendon saga in this piece at all. Essendon completely disregarded player welfare, Fremantle have upheld it to the point of being accused of tanking.

      I had more to say but I think they are the main issues here. I don’t expect Dan to reply, so what do you think roarers?

    • September 3rd 2013 @ 7:26am
      Tristan said | September 3rd 2013 @ 7:26am | ! Report

      I think we need tolook at the subtle difference between wanting to lose (tanking) and being indifferent to a win (Freo last week, Geelong v Brisbane in 09 etc). I’m sure Freo would still have been happy to win, but they don’t care about the loss.

      • September 3rd 2013 @ 12:27pm
        Matt F said | September 3rd 2013 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

        This pretty much sums it up. There is a difference between deliberately trying to lose and simply not caring whether you win

      • September 3rd 2013 @ 4:09pm
        Bobbo7 said | September 3rd 2013 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

        Good comment

    • Roar Rookie

      September 3rd 2013 @ 8:39am
      josh said | September 3rd 2013 @ 8:39am | ! Report

      There is a lot of ifs in this argument. Freo planned their strategy based on a what they probably thought was a 95% certainty, turns out they were right (albeit by 1 point).

      It’s not tanking as there is no real benefit in losing, bar resting key players for the finals, which is what most of the top 4 teams do every year.

    • September 3rd 2013 @ 9:02am
      Hawker said | September 3rd 2013 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Whats next ? the afl picks the teams not the clubs? Club should be able to select whoever they want.

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