Does the MRP have a backbone? We’re about to find out

Stirling Coates Roar Guru

By , Stirling Coates is a Roar Guru

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    The report of Toby Greene in Friday night’s Bulldogs-Giants clash is a perfect opportunity for the AFL’s maligned Match Review Panel to prove it has one of two things many believe it lacks – common sense, or a spine.

    Early in the third quarter of Greater Western Sydney’s blowout of the Dogs, oft-suspended Greene got his name taken by the umpires yet again on a rough conduct charge against Luke Dahlhaus.

    Greene lead up the ball to take a handball receive and, in the process, his right foot stuck out – striking in the oncoming Dahlhaus squarely in the jaw.

    Bulldogs players and fans in the vicinity were immediately incensed.

    As Dahlhaus walked off the field with blood dripping from his mouth, his teammates remonstrated with the pesky Giant for what they believed to be a deliberate kick to the face.

    For the record, I don’t believe Greene did it on purpose at all.

    AFL players are some of the most talented athletes on Earth, but the idea that someone can intentionally run, jump, take the ball above their head, karate kick an oncoming person in the face, spin around and land on their feet seems, at best, farfetched.

    But in any case, the MRP has one of the biggest decisions it’s had to make all year.

    While many will be angered by the verdict the MRP delivers, failure to impose a substantial suspension – in the event of a guilty verdict – would be even more disheartening, regardless of whether you personally believe Greene is indeed guilty.

    This is very much the MRP equivalent of a tackle half the fans believe is high and half are calling for holding the ball – and they must not call a ball-up.

    To backtrack to my personal view, I believe Greene deserves his reputation as a pest, and in many ways only has himself to blame for this incident being blown up to the extent it has.

    To his credit, he let his football do the talking from that point forwards and, despite having numerous opportunities to stick it the home fans throughout the game, was humble in his celebrations all evening.

    Toby Greene GWS Giants Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL 2016

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    As is more commonly mused during score reviews, you can trick yourself to believing almost anything with slow-motion replays. Admittedly, the slowmo of this particular incident does look quite damning.

    But slow motion has a habit of making a lot of indiscretions appear more malicious than they are – particularly high bumps and late spoils.

    Players can only think and act in real time, and when looking at the incident in real time, there doesn’t appear to be a lot in it.

    If a Bulldogs player had been the one taking the ball – perhaps even a lesser-known Giant – we’d be seeing this incident on the blooper reel instead.

    As such, this presents itself as a golden opportunity for the MRP that suspended Jack Ziebell for going too hard at the ball and cited Drew Petrie for clawing at the face of man choking him that they are capable of not overanalysing a situation.

    This is a golden opportunity for the MRP to prove they have some semblance of common sense.

    But, if you’re in the guilty camp and believe Greene knew exactly what he was doing – you’d be seeing this as a chance for the MRP to prove they have a backbone.

    The player reported for an act resembling a kick was North Melbourne’s Lindsay Thomas, in a 2015 Elimination Final win over Richmond.

    This incident was a lot more clear cut. After Grimes wrapped up Thomas and won himself a free kick for holding the ball, the Tiger defender gave his opponent a shove while they were both on the ground to let him know.

    Thomas, on his back, responded by striking Grimes in the chest with his foot.

    A 50-metre penalty was paid, there was a bit of push and shove, but Grimes was largely unaffected.

    Unfortunately, despite the act clearly being deliberate, Thomas too was left largely unaffected by his trip to the tribunal.

    A mere $1000 fine was all the incident amounted to.

    Carelessly or intentionally kicking another person is, in almost any sport, one of the most serious infractions a player can commit.

    In lower level Aussie rules, as per law 20.2, kicking another player results in the reported player being issued a red card and being ordered to leave the field for the remainder of the match.

    There are only four other specific incidences that see a red card issued and they all relate to the physical harm, intimidation or abuse of an umpire.

    Striking is not a red card offence under the laws of the game.

    While the AFL competition itself does not use yellow or red cards, nor does it send players off, the laws of the game still clearly elevate the seriousness of this reportable offence above almost all others.

    For a player to have been issued a mere fine for such an offence is absurd, and if the MRP is seriously of the opinion that Greene intended to kick Dahlhaus, a suspension in the double digits – given his bad record – is the only acceptable sentence.

    Unfortunately, the MRP and AFL itself seem to dole out punishments designed more to assuage public outcry than address the incident itself.

    Toby Greene GWS Giants AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Essendon’s ASADA scandal deserved the condemnation it received, but the AFL’s decision to remove them from the 2013 finals was clearly in response to public disdain rather than a suitable punishment for an incident that didn’t even occur in the same season.

    Ultimately, it ended lending some credence to the claim the players had already been through enough when the season-long bans eventually came about.

    On other hand, uproar over Sydney’s trade manoeuvres saw them banned from the practice altogether despite them having committed no form of wrongdoing whatsoever.

    In that context, my gut feel – and I suspect this is shared – is that Greene will be charged, but offered a suspension of two or three weeks.

    An outcome that would satisfy those in the guilty camp, but also offer a penalty safe enough to not rock the boat too much.

    Despite my belief that Greene is innocent, to me this would be an even bigger travesty than a ten-week ban.

    If any player carelessly or intentionally kicks another player in the face, the MRP must come down on them with all their might.

    But whether the MRP possess the common sense to let him off, or the backbone to rub such acts out of the game for good, is something nobody can say they’re certain of.