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Where does the AFL's hardline stance on injury take them?

Gary Ablett is a constant injury concern. (AAP Image/Jason O'Brien)
Roar Rookie
2nd March, 2018
6

While Sunday’s JLT Community series opener between the Crows and the Dockers was headlined by Fremantle skipper Nat Fyfe’s excellent form, the return of key defender Alex Pearce, after 645 days out with injury, was most welcome.

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon, buoyed by Pearce’s return to competitive football for the first time since Round 9, 2016, went as far as declaring “He’s certainly leadership material stamped all over him, and a future captain of AFL football I would think.”

Lyon also made note of how vividly he remembered the initial incident that led to the key defender breaking his right tibia.

Pearce re-injured the same leg during a running drill as part of his rehabilitation in January 2017, with a subsequent infection in the bone further prolonging his comeback.

Little was made at the time of Jack Riewoldt’s role in the initial injury, but after the match review panel came down hard on Port Adelaide star Robbie Gray during the week, should the AFL look at causes of other injuries?

Gray earned himself a one-match suspension, with match review officer Michael Christian saying, “The option was there to genuinely contest the ball and he elected not to.”

While Gray’s intention was not to injure Jeremy McGovern, his decision to bump was what led to head contact and McGovern suffering concussion.

So should players who contribute to the injuries of other players by way of reckless or careless actions be reviewed by the MRP?

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Hall of Famer Dermott Brereton weighed into the argument, saying Gray’s intention was the ball, but that players had other means to harm opponents:

“There were times when I might have gone for the ball thinking this is going to be hard to hang on to, I might put the knee up and run a little bit flatter and harder into the player in front, and the umpire is obligated, because of these rules, to go play on, nothing to see here. I knew I was hurting the bloke backing back with it.”

If so, would there be implications for former Gold Coast captain Gary Ablett Jr, who played a small role in contributing to the concussion of Brisbane’s Stefan Martin?

Ablett pushed Martin towards oncoming teammate Steven May, whose subsequent bump knocked the Lions’ ruckman out cold and saw May suspended for five matches.

Or Nic Naitanui for breaking ribs and puncturing Aaron Sandilands’ lung?

In the cases of Riewoldt and Ablett, neither player intended for their opponent to suffer injury, but their choice to play the player and not the ball may have contributed to their opponents’ injuries.

Would Kevin Bartlett, so parochial about the head, go in to bat for players injured by other causes? Would he seriously say Jack Riewoldt deserved two weeks for a push that contributed to Alex Pearce being out for almost two years?