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Six Points: Sicily and Butler did nothing wrong, ridiculous Weightman pile-on, and calling out abysmal commentary

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11th June, 2023
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We’ve still got one match to go for Round 13 – but there has still more than enough doings a’transpirin’ to start the long weekend to really get stuck into!

Match review controversy has reached a new high with no fewer than THREE contentious incidents this weekend, all likely to make it a bumper Tuesday at the Tribunal.

Scoring, too, is still on the up, with eight of 14 teams reaching 80 or higher; we had stirring wins on the road from Richmond and St Kilda, Port keep right on the heels of Collingwood for top spot, and of course, Taylor Walker cashing in on the easiest milestone he’ll ever have in his life.

Let’s begin.

1. Sicily and Butler did nothing wrong (but not Mansell)

Another week, another spate of controversial suspensions – and three of them this round makes it busier than most.

James Sicily and Rhyan Mansell will head to the Tribunal on Tuesday for their dangerous tackle on Hugh McCluggage and high bump on James Aish respectively, while it’s basically a foregone conclusion that Dan Butler will join them when, not if, St Kilda challenge his ban for a dangerous tackle on Nick Blakey.

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Let’s go through them one by one. To spoil the ending: only two of Sicily, Mansell and Butler have been seriously hard done by.

Butler’s is the most egregious; as has been said frequently since Thursday night, there is simply no realistic alternative to what he did to run Blakey down.

What causes the Swan’s head to hit the ground isn’t any excessive action from Butler, and rather forward moment from the tackle coming from behind, exacerbated by the fact previous contact on Brad Crouch slowed Blakey to a stop. There is no driving force from Butler into the ground that doesn’t come from his own impossible to stop momentum.

The only positive out of this whole thing is that it at least shows the MRO is consistent regardless of injury; the rule has now become that you’re copping a week from Michael Christian if you tackle a bloke whose head hits the ground, even if they’re not concussed. It was also, despite the controversy, well umpired at the time: say what you will about the rule, but as it is currently expected to be officiated, any tackle where a player’s head hits the ground and they’re unable to stop it will be free-kicked.

I actually think Butler did less wrong here than even Rory Laird on Lachie Neale a few weeks ago, to which it has been regularly compared. Laird there at least made the decision to try and take Neale to ground; Butler’s forward momentum from his desperate chase is so total that he could do nothing more than topple forward along with Blakey, who, remember, is a good deal bigger than Butler.

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Nick Blakey is tackled by Dan Butler.

Nick Blakey is tackled by Dan Butler. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

The fact Blakey wasn’t concussed actually makes it easier for the Tribunal, and the Saints’ lawyers – I’d be hugely surprised, given the precedent set by Laird and Adam Cerra a few weeks ago, if he wasn’t cleared of all charges.

Moving to Sicily’s, I can honestly say the only thing I reckon he did wrong was the cheap little push of a prone McCluggage immediately after the tackle. If you’ve read this column before you’ll know I hate acts like that, and frankly if he was given a week for it that would sit fine with me.

But for the tackle itself, the biggest factor is that Sicily, when sticking it, is in mid-air and horizontal to the ground, such is his desperation to lay it. In addition, he actually does, or attempts to do, what AFL players are now being taught: pulling McCluggage onto him rather than into the ground.

Unfortunately, Tyler Brockman’s presence keeps McCluggage upright for a fraction of a second longer than he otherwise would have been, so when Sicily rolls with his momentum onto his side from the tackle, the whiplash effect takes McCluggage’s head 90 degrees from fully upright to into the ground.

Factor in that all this is happening in fractions of a second, and there’s no possible way you could grade this as careless by Sicily. McCluggage just gets very, very unlucky, and unless the Hawthorn captain is clairvoyant he couldn’t be expected to anticipate Brockman’s involvement.

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Getting sent straight to the Tribunal isn’t a death sentence – Tom Lynch escaped sanction for his collision with Alex Keath when it was ruled he had no alternative and the contact was an accident – and I think this has only been sent there so Christian can clear himself of an incident that doesn’t fit the usual MRO parameters. Otherwise, for this to get the same ban as Jordan De Goey’s deliberate, dumb bump that knocked Elijah Hewett out last week would be a farce.

Where you might come to disagree with me is on the third incident: unfortunately, I think Mansell has to cop weeks for it. Keep in mind, though, that I thought the same about Mitch Duncan in a somewhat similar incident with Sydney’s Robbie Fox back in April, and he ended up cleared of all wrongdoing.

The issue with Mansell is this: of course he was bracing for contact and defending himself, but when it boils down to it, if you’re still moving towards a contest and leading with your shoulder and forearm, then it’s still a bump.

I disagree with Cameron Mooney’s claim that players in Aish’s position are hurting themselves because they’re no longer being taught to brace for contact – over the years we’ve seen dozens of players cop it like the Docker did when fully exposed. Put ‘Byron Pickett’ into YouTube and you’ll see a heap of them.

The only reason this is now getting attention and debate is because the game now no longer allows one player to solely be protecting themselves at the expense of the other bloke. In Aish’s case, if he braces for contact and Mansell charges in, it’s him getting sent to the Tribunal.

The big difference between Mansell and the others, in my view, is this: Mansell had another option. Instead of bracing for contact, he needed to tackle Aish. Open up the arms instead of closing his stance and leading with the shoulder, and there’s no chance of a suspension.

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Could Aish, or Mansell even, have been hurt out of this? Sure. Maybe. It certainly wouldn’t have tickled. But unless Mansell’s head whiplashes into Aish’s, the dreaded concussion would be avoided.

All up, I think two weeks would be fair for Mansell – the same ban that Patrick Cripps originally got for ironing out Callum Ah Chee last year before the lawyers intervened, in another incident of a player whose main defence was that he was protecting himself.

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2. 2023’s biggest overreaction

Now let’s move on to a topic far less controversial than match review: Cody Weightman.

I was shocked to see on Friday night the response on social media, and in the wider football community, the free kick the Bulldogs goalsneak received in the first term against Port Adelaide. Especially in the responses to this Fox Footy tweet of the incident, which leans pretty viciously in one direction.

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The reaction to the incident honestly bewilders me. Yes, Weightman, a player renowned for drawing free kicks via often dubious means, makes the most of the contact from Miles Bergman; but it’s still not only the most obvious of frees, but some seriously dumb play from Bergman.

I’m obviously more positively predisposed towards Weightman than most, but I’ll also defend him going to ground here. When you’re running in one direction, and suddenly you get a shunt into the side from a person bigger, taller and presumably stronger than you, chances are you’ll fall over.

Feel free to disagree, but I think it’s worse for the game for an umpire to pay a clear free kick that is only drawn to their attention by the infringed player making sure they see it, than for defenders (and the occasional forward) to get away with murder if they so much as pretend to be going for the ball.

I’ll put it this way: there are a million more egregious examples of players diving, staging or faking for free kicks than Weightman’s here, and . One that has flown under the radar this week is Michael Walters flying like he’s been shot out of a cannon after the lightest of touches, something that presumably only even got picked up on Twitter because it was immediately followed by a stunning Nat Fyfe goal.

As former Roarer Adrian Polykandrites succinctly put it; if that’s Anthony Scott no one bats an eyelid. And if obvious frees like this are going to cause such mayhem, then it’s going to be impossible to stop this narrative for the rest of his career.

A narrative like this already resulted in some of the most embarrassing umpiring ever seen regarding Jack Ginnivan last year. We can only hope something similar doesn’t occur with Weightman – much as some of us would rub our hands with glee at it happening.

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Cody Weightman of the Bulldogs marks.

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

3. The Hawks are incredibly fun…

I resisted the temptation to again write about Hawthorn’s triumphant win over Brisbane in Saturday’s Footy Fix, mostly because it would mostly have been rehashing all the things I said about them following their win over St Kilda.

But at the moment, there are only a handful more teams more exciting to watch than Sam Mitchell’s mob; and most of those have a bevy of forwards like Adelaide do to incentivise getting it to them as much as possible.

The Hawks have a star in Mitch Lewis, a wily veteran in Luke Breust, and (and I say this with love) a bunch of other jobbers in attack; and it’s gelling magnificently. But their attacking, daring play from defence and through the midfield is what is setting it all up, and in a great example of footy karma everything good about them stems from something that they were criticised for early in the year when they were being belted.

After copping a pantsing from Sydney in Round 2, the Hawks were derided for ‘kamikaze’ kicks into the corridor, which repeatedly led to turnover goals: kicks like this one that Connor Macdonald, with another two months to improve on it, hit perfectly to set up the goal that sparked the comeback.

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The Hawks were also accused of over-possessing by hand against Port Adelaide a week ago, coinciding with another flogging; but nearly half their 426 disposals against the Lions were handpasses, and especially when scything down the wing with speed and dare, their quick hands to free up teammates and create an overlap rent a very good Brisbane team asunder and showed them up on the counterattack.

It was a performance to vindicate everything Mitchell has been trying to achieve with his young, developing group across the last 18 months. I’ve been big on the coach for a while now, and maintain that his efforts in turning a still ragtag Hawks list into a very competitive outfit capable of the sublime has been pure genius.

The Hawks are no longer the best bad team you’ll see, as I wrote about them a few months ago. They’re now up a level into the ‘inconsistent but menacing’ category, the sort of team you look at coming up in your team’s fixture and know it’s going to be a danger game. If they can do it to Brisbane, they can do it to whoever you barrack for, too.

4. … but Brisbane can’t be serious

Brisbane are now five seasons into being a legitimate premiership contender. That’s about three seasons too many for diabolical performances like Saturday’s second half against Hawthorn to be remotely acceptable.

For a side with as much talent as any in the league, the Lions go missing against lesser opposition far too often. This is a side which inflicted on Collingwood its only defeat of the season, which is nigh on unbeatable at its Gabba fortress; the gap between their best and worst is just as stark as it’s always been.

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Yes, the Hawks were brilliant, but the Lions let them be that good – a team of Lachie Neale and Josh Dunkley shouldn’t be getting pummelled for contested possessions to Jai Newcombe and James Worpel. That pair were again superb, but the amount of help coming their way again left a lot to be desired.

At some point, questions must surely be asked of Chris Fagan why, with an exceptional list that seems to add a star player or two every passing season, the Lions’ high water mark remains an inconsistent home and away season, a top-four finish and then a loss in either semi final or preliminary final week. With Collingwood and Port Adelaide rapidly separating themselves from the pack with wins in the last three weeks where Brisbane have managed just the two losses, that seems to be about as much as they can hope for again in 2023.

Even in their seven consecutive wins, the Lions’ form was patchy; they had a diabolical first half against Essendon, let Carlton beat themselves, punished Gold Coast in the last quarter after a tense struggle, and got Fremantle in the teething week where their new game plan was yet to take shape. You can only beat who’s put in front of you, but only their win over the Magpies has been anything like a four-quarter performance.

Four years on from bursting onto the scene, the Lions are just as frustrating and just as inconsistent as they’ve always been. It’s been a long time since it was close to acceptable.

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5. The Bombers have all the Wright stuff

He’s played just one game under Brad Scott, but Peter Wright could hardly have done more.

Returning after no lead-in games for Sunday night’s clash with Carlton, the Bombers spearhead instantly proved a major focal point in attack, taking seven marks and booting five goals – three coming in the seven-goal third quarter surge that tore Carlton to shreds.

Most importantly of all, his kicking for goal remains beautiful: on his day, no key forward in the game strikes the ball purer than Wright, and the difference between his accurate evening and the 2.4 produced by Charlie Curnow at the other end was probably the deciding factor in the match.

Together with Sam Weideman, another traded-in recruit, the Bombers have a one-two forward line punch that most defences in the competition will struggle to maintain. Add to that their frenetic pressure at ground level, and little wonder the Blues simply couldn’t cope when they turned it on after half time.

Whether it’s Zach Merrett moving forward to shake an Ed Curnow tag and racking up five score involvements in the third term, to Ben Hobbs stepping into Darcy Parish’s role and officially proving the Dons can afford to lose him to free agency, to Nick Hind’s career resurgence in recent weeks as a dashing half-back, this is a football club suddenly blessed with weapons.

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That’s without even mentioning Nic Martin, who is well and truly an All-Australian wingman contender now, having caused more than a few raised eyebrows when Champion Data named him the year’s best winger a few weeks ago.

Dispatching a rival like the Blues as emphatically as they did is already sweet enough for Bombers fans, but sweeter still is what the future might hold for this group. Sitting sixth with a juicy draw ahead of them, having responded to a nightmare early run of fixtures with four straight wins, that future might arrive sooner than you think.

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Peter Wright

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

6. Seven need to be better than this

Everyone rightfully rags on Fox for having their commentators call non-Victorian games from a studio in Melbourne; but remarkably, Channel Seven, despite being in attendance for Richmond’s win over Fremantle at Optus Stadium, have upped the ante when it comes to shambles.

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Sure, enough, Basil Zempilas’ return to the box brought with it mistaken identities, incorrect observations and continually calling the play as if his brain is on a second delay, but that wasn’t the worst part of it.

With just minutes to go and the match still right up for grabs, Ethan Hughes’ long ‘goal’ was always going to be the defining moment out of the game.

Yet so intent were Zempilas and co-caller Alistair Nicholson, who I actually usually enjoy as a commentator especially on radio, on waffling on that they failed to listen in on the conversation between the goal and field umpires, in which the goal ump asserted his on-field goal of no goal.

That meant that, when the ARC ruled (probably correctly but honestly who knows) that there was insufficient evidence to overturn the on-field call, Nicholson believed that meant Hughes’ goal was to be awarded. It took until the goal umpire signalled a behind after the review had concluded to realise his mistake.

Zempilas, fashionably late as always, chimed in with ‘We did hear early in the sequence of replays that the umpire’s call was a behind’. I mean, it would have been nice of you to say it at the time rather than leaving Nicholson out to dry, if indeed you knew it all along!

Commentators cop flak all the time from the disgruntled public, and no doubt it’s a tougher job than we properly acknowledge. But the whole reason to have them at all is to provide the viewer information that otherwise they’d struggle to obtain for themselves. This is the polar opposite of that.

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It’s my pick for the worst commentary performance of the season – remarkable that it came with Luke Darcy off for the evening. Zempilas is unlikely to be back for a while, but regardless, Seven just need to demand more of their broadcast team than this.

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Random thoughts

– That’s three times this year Essendon have named Andrew Phillips as a tactical late in. I’d love the AFL to nip this in the bud, otherwise what’s the point in making clubs name their teams two days out.

– Good on Hugh McCluggage for wanting to walk off under his own steam, but surely the docs have to insist he take the medi-cab off just to be safe.

– Especially when it’s right there and the alternative is a massive delay.

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– Basil Zempilas is the commentator most people think Kelli Underwood is.

– Essendon and Carlton would both be far more successful football clubs if they stopped acting like premierships won in an ten-team amateur competition from 100 years ago mean anything at all.

– It’s getting harder and harder to believe that no one wanted Nic Martin in the draft.

– I wish this didn’t need to be said, but it does: the Marlion Pickett news is not a green light to be racist.

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