Nic Naitanui cannot – must not – be acquitted for his heavy tackle

Tim Lane Columnist

By Tim Lane, Tim Lane is a Roar Expert

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    Of all the hysteria generated in an average AFL season, the white noise over Nic Naitanui’s one-week suspension is up there with the most nonsensical. Should the tribunal somehow take leave of its senses and acquit the champion West Coast ruckman tonight, it will do the game a disservice.

    Regardless of the outcome, this case is one about which the AFL should think hard. For, when you drill down, it speaks some home truths about modern football.

    You don’t follow? Well, I don’t expect more than a minority will. For most of you have been led up the garden path of a modern game almost without rules. Let me explain.

    Ten years ago, on a Friday night, I took an English cricket commentator for his first experience of the Australian code. A lover, and long-time watcher, of sport, his reaction – after a couple of quarters – was illuminating.

    “I see,” he said, “the referees just run around doing nothing and then, every now and then, they say: ‘Enough’s enough,’ and blow the whistle”.

    In other words, a person viewing with fresh eyes was seeing all manner of tackling and other physical contact, and when a free kick was eventually paid it appeared to be for nothing more than what had gone unchecked for the previous five to ten minutes.

    The whistle is, of course, blown with slightly greater discernment than that, but I could understand his confusion.

    Free kicks, particularly those for ‘contact’ offences, have been wound back over many years. Defence has been encouraged by coaches. The game’s off-field managers have bowed to this, and to the mindlessness of those in the crowd who see the umpires as a nuisance.

    There has been a lack of will from the top to say: “The implementation of the rules is actually good for the game; the rules define the game and we want a code that has definition.” That the on-field game has become such an amorphous, congested mass is not unrelated to the above.

    So, why is this relevant to the Naitanui case?

    Nick Naitanui reacts after tackling Karl Amon

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    Well, the tackle at issue from last Saturday in Perth tells of a game in which players aren’t sufficiently concerned about ‘contact’ breaches. They are encouraged by their coaches to defend as hard as they can, and they aren’t sufficiently discouraged by umpires as to know where to draw the line.

    That coaches like Chris Scott and Alan Richardson have spoken in equivocal terms about Naitanui’s tackle tells of their mindset.

    Then there’s the public, which seems to no longer care about the most basic of the game’s laws. And the ‘push in the back’ was once the most commonly awarded free kick.

    Clearly, Naitanui pushed Karl Amon in the back. No one, surely, is arguing with that. But it’s the manner in which it was done that tells the story. And the story is that he approached Amon so fast and hard that he didn’t just push him, he rammed him with ferocity into the turf and caused a head injury.

    You can go on all you like about the fact that Amon turned from a side-on position to rear-on as Naitanui approached, but he was in possession of the ball. He does have some rights as the ball-carrier, doesn’t he? Yet some analysis of the incident seems to portray Naitanui as the victim, as though Amon put him in an impossible position by turning his body.

    If Naitanui is a victim, he’s a victim of the modern mindset. He is encouraged by his coach, every other team’s coach, his team’s supporters, every other team’s supporters, the umpires, and the game’s administrators to go flat-out in such moments. He approached flat out, without sufficient duty of care, and when things changed he couldn’t do other than lay an illegal, injurious tackle.

    The underlying problem is that the umpires, in their modern, minimalist implementation of the laws, don’t do enough to discourage tackling breaches. So, Naitanui felt at liberty to approach the ball-carrier as he did.

    Yet the umpires have a handbrake at their disposal. It’s called a whistle. Blow it more often when tackles slip high or, when applied from behind they carry the ball-carrier forward, and they will moderate the game’s speed. They will also make it better to watch.

    What their lack of attention to these matters has had the effect of doing is to allow the methods of the ‘stopper’ to prevail over those of the creator. The game is, thus, less attractive to watch and it’s become harder to score.

    The power brokers have been asleep at the wheel, have veered to the wrong side of the road, and there is now a big truck coming the other way. It’s not Nic Naitanui, it’s a growing problem with ugly games and low scoring, leading to spectator frustration and bad television viewing.

    The big truck that rammed Karl Amon from behind last weekend should provide some food for thought.

    Tim Lane
    Tim Lane

    Tim Lane is one of the most respected voices in Australian sport, having gained a strong following for his weekly AFL column in The Age. Tim has also called 32 AFL/VFL grand finals and was behind the microphone for Cathy Freeman's memorable gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. You can catch him on Twitter @TimLaneSport.

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    The Crowd Says (139)

    • May 9th 2018 @ 9:19am
      Luke said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      Wow, just wow. Did they ban the bouncer in cricket just because people get head injuries or can potentially have a Phil Hughes outcome? Do we shoot all the sharks because surfers can get injured or killed? Ban motor racing because of injuries or potential deaths? And they’re not even contact sports. That hasn’t been a reportable incident for 100 years, Amon is okay, you need to get a grip.

      • May 9th 2018 @ 12:59pm
        Scott said | May 9th 2018 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

        Totally agree with the wow just wow. There is so much wrong with this article all we can say is WOW

        • May 9th 2018 @ 1:57pm
          Kangajets said | May 9th 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

          Actually yes they have severely limited the overuse of the bouncer in cricket since the body line series in the 30s.
          Field restrictions behind square leg and limits on how much short pitched bowling is allowed.

      • Roar Guru

        May 9th 2018 @ 2:29pm
        JamesH said | May 9th 2018 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

        I think you’re making false equivalences there. The tackle hasn’t been banned but it has been regulated – just like the bouncer (or beamers) and safety measures for surfers and drivers have been.

        I’m on the fence with this one – it is a very tight call. On one hand, there was no slinging action and only one arm was pinned. On the other, Nic ‘launched’ the tackle forward and drove Amon into the ground, when he should have just dragged Amon down.

        It was an unnecessarily dangerous tackle; the question is, was it dangerous enough to warrant a ‘reckless’ grading and a consequent ban? Either way, it was a shocking tackling technique that no coach should be happy with.

    • May 9th 2018 @ 9:19am
      Bob said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      Get your hand off it champ, nic was tackling the guy as he turned has body. As a result he was paid a free kick for in the back. Nic didn’t pin his arms so a free kick is all it should be.

      • Roar Guru

        May 9th 2018 @ 2:58pm
        JamesH said | May 9th 2018 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

        Why do you think the result would have been different if Amon was facing a different direction? It wouldn’t have been in the back, but Amon’s head probably still would have hit the deck hard.

        • May 9th 2018 @ 3:38pm
          handles said | May 9th 2018 @ 3:38pm | ! Report

          In that case it would not have been in the back, it would have been holding the ball.

          I firmly believe you regulate by punishing the action not the outcome. Natanui’s action was fine, the outcome was negatively influenced by bad luck (not Natanui’s fault), the relative size of the players (not Natanui’s fault), and the twisting evasive action of Amon (also not Natanui’s fault).

          Disagree Tim.

          • May 9th 2018 @ 3:40pm
            Macca said | May 9th 2018 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

            If the action was fine it would not have been “in the back”. It was a terrible tackle technically.

            • May 9th 2018 @ 3:47pm
              handles said | May 9th 2018 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

              Not the point. ‘In the back’ is a free kick not a week suspension. His action was fine other than catching the twisting Amon in the back.

              • May 9th 2018 @ 3:51pm
                Macca said | May 9th 2018 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

                The week suspension is for the player becoming concussed after he illegally applied a tackle.

                If his action was fine catching Amon in the back wouldn’t have mattered because he wouldn’t have propelled him forward.

    • May 9th 2018 @ 9:33am
      JoshC said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:33am | ! Report

      As a Port supporter who was unfortunately at the game, I saw the tackle live and was a free kick but certainly nothing more. I hope he gets off and commonsense prevails.

      • May 9th 2018 @ 11:46am
        Perry Bridge said | May 9th 2018 @ 11:46am | ! Report

        Note though how Nic Nat takes his feet off the ground – instead of bringing Amon down with him, he’s launched himself straight into him like a missile. This is horrible technique. He’s riding him into the ground. I contrast that to what Jarrad Waite got done for on Tom Lynch (Adel) in Hobart last year, where Waite dropped himself to the ground, and brought the tacklee down (with one arm pinned – who in attempting to kick the ball actually pivoted himself and accentuated the ‘sling’ type action) and I figure that Waite did everything pretty well right and still got done.

        In this case – Nic Nat has done pretty well everything wrong in a technical sense – you wouldn’t or shouldn’t coach that – he has gone hard either deliberately trying to hurt Amon or clumsily in which case he needs a prod to improve his technique as he’s done similar things this season already. For me – 1 week.

        • May 9th 2018 @ 1:38pm
          Macca said | May 9th 2018 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

          Perry – that is my thoughts exactly, Natanui looks like an under 12 when the tackling bags come out at training – no thought of technique, just throw yourself at it in order make it slam into the ground so everyone thinks you hit it hard.

          If you execute something with poor technique and a free kick is paid against you because of that poor technique and your opponent walks away with a concussion you have to expect 1 week.

          Also this tackle reminds me of one an Essendon player laid on Carrazzo back in 2012 that resulted in Carrazzo shoulder blade breaking and him missing about 12 weeks (from memory) – the damage done could have been much worse.

          • May 9th 2018 @ 4:27pm
            Bob said | May 9th 2018 @ 4:27pm | ! Report

            He passed a concussion test and came back on though?

          • May 11th 2018 @ 9:22pm
            Sam said | May 11th 2018 @ 9:22pm | ! Report

            Macca it wasnt great technique but his timing was perfect. For a game with 360 degree scope there does need to be a safe guard for the ball carrier who is tackled from behind. If you showed that to a Rugby league or Rugby union player or supporter they’d tell you its a technically perfect tackled when applied front on largely because the ball carrier can see it and brace for impact or attempt to evade the player leaving their feet!

        • May 9th 2018 @ 11:20pm
          Maurice said | May 9th 2018 @ 11:20pm | ! Report

          Agree totally . Once his feet left the ground landing him was never going to be pretty.
          1 week could of been 2 . Every year or so a line has to be drawn on something Nic Nat Has drawn that line.

      • May 9th 2018 @ 5:35pm
        Mr X said | May 9th 2018 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

        Good on you for saying that Josh C.

    • May 9th 2018 @ 9:34am
      DJW said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

      This article is a rambling that never arrives at a point

      • May 9th 2018 @ 5:21pm
        Powerboy said | May 9th 2018 @ 5:21pm | ! Report

        …it just kicked a goal….

    • May 9th 2018 @ 9:37am
      Aligee said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      I am going to get in first here with a telling stat that defines modern football.

      1988 – 7,413 tackles
      2017 – 28,364 tackles

      Let us progress to kicks

      1988 – 66,751
      2017 – 87,375

      Lets look at hitouts

      1988 – 5,806
      2017 – 16,508

      * 4 extra teams now in 2017 to 1988

      More stoppages means more tackles means more stoppages.

      Not only has tackling increased MORE THAN 350%, the style of tackling such as pinning arms has increased exponentially as well, a potential maiming of opponents.

      Nic Nat to my knowledge has featured in at least 3 really awkward looking tackles this year, he needs to change his technique IMO for his and his opponents sake and for that matter so do a stack of other players.

      The tackling rules needs to be overhauled and much stricter forms of tackling introduced IMO.

      • May 9th 2018 @ 11:28am
        elvis said | May 9th 2018 @ 11:28am | ! Report

        You are worried about potential maiming but there has been over 300,000 tackles in the last 30 years without that happening. Your conclusion isn’t supported by the data you provided.

      • May 9th 2018 @ 1:13pm
        Scott said | May 9th 2018 @ 1:13pm | ! Report

        Sorry to be a maths geek but by those stats if the same amount of games were played there would’ve been 86359 kicks in 1988. Almost exactly the same, maybe that was your point I don’t know? Also the umpires took way longer to ball it up back then and the tackle stats reflect the far softer holding the ball rule in 1988. Sometimes tackles weren’t recorded if the player got rid of the ball

        • May 9th 2018 @ 1:25pm
          Aligee said | May 9th 2018 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

          My point was that kicks have stayed relatively the same, tackles and hitouts( stoppages) have exploded.

          BTW i did make a mistake, there were 14 teams in 1988 not 12 as i stated, therefore the increase in tackling is even bigger.

          More tackles = more hitouts needed leads to more tackles etc

          IMO it all relates back to I/C numbers,where players can zip up and down all day refreshed.

          Much more emphasis on tackling as more bodies around the ball also gets back to I/C numbers.

        • Roar Guru

          May 9th 2018 @ 2:34pm
          JamesH said | May 9th 2018 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

          “Also the umpires took way longer to ball it up back then”

          No, they were way quicker to do it back then. They blew ball ups faster and they didn’t worry about what the ruckmen were doing (let alone making them nominate).

          • May 9th 2018 @ 2:38pm
            Macca said | May 9th 2018 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

            On the weekend I found myself in the strange situation of thinking BT actually made a good point, he was talking about how long the umpires take to get the game going from a stoppage, waiting around for ruckmen to nominate etc which allows more an more players to get to the contest and create more congestion.

            Getting the game going as quickly as possible whether the players are ready or not is the easiest solution to the issue that most people complain about these days.

            • Roar Guru

              May 9th 2018 @ 3:00pm
              JamesH said | May 9th 2018 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

              +1

              He reiterated it on Talking Footy on Monday night. BT is a dinosaur on most things but he got that spot on.

            • Roar Guru

              May 9th 2018 @ 5:56pm
              AdelaideDocker said | May 9th 2018 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

              Yup, I saw him talking ’bout it on that Sunday footy show – dunno what it’s called.

              I do think that it’s unfair that if a teams in a good position – for instance, the stoppage is in team A’s forward pocket – that in the time the umpires waiting for nominations etc, team B had the ability to flood numbers back towards the area in the time the umpire’s eventually thrown the ball up. Not to mention the whole adding congestion bit.

              So yup I definitely agree with BT’s comments.

    • May 9th 2018 @ 9:41am
      I ate pies said | May 9th 2018 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      It was a pretty crude tackle, and I don’t mind him being rubbed out for it. He dove on his back and drove his head into the ground; that’s asking for trouble.

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