The Roar
The Roar


Joel Selwood’s unwanted contribution to the AFL

Joel Selwood led the Cats to a pre-season win against the Bombers. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Roar Rookie
5th April, 2018
2242 Reads

He’s one of the most fearless and courageous leaders modern football has ever seen, and the media rightfully acknowledges this on a regular basis.

Joel Selwood is a superstar, there’s no question. But there’s a darker side to the six-time All Australian.

We can all thank Joel Selwood for introducing, and mastering, a shameful practise widely used throughout todays AFL.

Umpires can easily tell the difference between a genuine high tackle, and a tackle where a player has ducked his head to draw the high contact. But the line becomes blurred when it comes to Selwood and his copycats.

Lowering his knees to reduce his body height, Selwood knows when the tackle is coming, and as soon as the tacklers arms wrap around his own arms, he raises his shoulder, subsequently causing the tackling players arm to slide down and wrap around Selwood’s neck rather than his torso.

Given he hasn’t blatantly ducked his head into the tackler’s body, umpires are forced to rule this a high tackle.

It is technically not cheating, but it is certainly not in the spirit of the game.

Players such as Rhys Mathieson, Toby McLean and Luke Shuey have all followed suits, and the technique is now common.

Mathieson, a young Lion who only debuted in 2016, immediately copped a bad reputation for using the high contact technique almost every time he was tackled. Paul Puopolo was also guilty, before making an effort to reduce his reliance on this element of his game, in order to avoid the bad reputation.


So why is Selwood held in such regard within the media despite being the pioneer of a widely disliked technique?


(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Jon Ralph was quick to pounce on Toby McLean on the weekend via Twitter, claiming he “has to get the duck and raised-arm out of his game,” adding that it is “milking free kicks” and that it labels players “with a perception that is hard to get rid of even when you stop it.”

Ralph didn’t quite target Selwood in the same way after Easter Monday’s game, merely decalaring the obvious – that it is very hard to tackle him.

Selwood is in the highest tier of elite midfielders in the competition. Yet other players who are brilliant at evading tackles and disposing of the ball prior to contact, make Selwood’s tactics look like a cop out. He can’t be that good in traffic if he has to draw free kicks to save himself.

A prime Gary Ablett or Sam Mitchell would have the skill to get off a clean disposal to a teammate, in a high-pressure situation with opposition tacklers a bearing down on them.

Dustin Martin prefers to use his brute strength to fend off his opponents, a stunning (and legal) move. Whereas Joel Selwood prefers to use his strength to raise his shoulders and force his tacklers arms around his neck. The Dusty method is a brilliant and famous part of our game. The Selwood method needs to go.

During the recent Easter Monday classic between the Cats and the Hawks, Ryan Burton attempted to lay a tackle on Selwood midway through the opening quarter. Selwood, clearly unaware of his surroundings, quickly realised he was in hot water, and resorted to his usual method. As always, free kick Selwood.


In his usual, fiery state, James Sicily let Joel know that he was not happy with his behaviour, shoving him to the ground and conceding a fifty-metre penalty. Ironically, Sicily has been known to use this free kick drawing method himself, though far less frequently, preferring to use his precision kicking to escape danger.

Later, Sicily does what not many men can do, and lays a legal, perfect tackle on Selwood. Clearly upset that he couldn’t milk a free kick for himself out of it, Selwood decides to grab Sicily’s legs and not allow him to pursue the ball.

Unable to break free, Sicily drops his knee in Selwood’s face and cops a week off for it from Michael Christian, the MRP officer.

Mark Robinson, chief AFL reporter for the Herald Sun, voiced his outrage, underwhelmed by the ban. He called for it to be longer, and disregarded the fact that Selwood had it coming for not letting go of Sicily as “rubbish.”

Joel Selwood Geelong Cats AFL 2017 tall

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Well, Selwood did have it coming. Sicily didn’t need to drop his knee into Selwood’s head, and the-week ban he received for it is fair. But it certainly should not be any longer than a week. It was graded as intentional, and low impact. Both are correct judgements.

He did not drive his knee into Selwood’s head. He just dropped it. That’s what happens when someone is holding onto your legs and impeding your balance. Sicily will sit out against Richmond, an important clash for Hawthorn. But he does not deserve to miss any more football than that.

And the tension all stemmed from the original incident after Ryan Burton’s legal tackle against Selwood was milked into an illegal one.


Sicily overreacted, but he clearly shares the frustration of thousands of fans.

Joel Selwood’s method of drawing high contact has had a negative impact on our game. It shows a lack of ability to prevail in high-pressure situations, and it is exploiting a grey area in the rules.

For the sake of his reputation, Joel Selwood should put an end to this practise.