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AFL News: MRO explains verdict as Port star's suspension escape slammed, Dunstall to become HOF Legend

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15th April, 2024
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Former great David King has blasted Match Review Officer Michael Christian’s decision to not suspend Port Adelaide star Zak Butters for his high bump on Fremantle’s Bailey Banfield, suggesting the league is focused more on ‘protecting the Brownlow’ rather than the welfare of players.

Butters was deemed to have no case to answer after catching Banfield in the head attacking a disputed ball, with Christian not considering the incident a suspendable offence.

However, King wasn’t impressed with the verdict, nor the call to only ban Adelaide midfielder Matt Crouch for one week for a high bump on Carlton’s Jack Carroll, which was graded by Christian as careless conduct, medium impact and high contact.

“I want to know if we’re protecting the head or we’re protecting the Brownlow,” King said on Fox Footy’s First Crack.

“We have talked about this and talked about this until we’re blue in the face… that’s [Crouch’s bump] got spinal injury written all over it. That is the exact action that puts people in wheelchairs… we are still waiting for someone to be carried from the field to never walk again before we take this seriously. I’m over it.”

King compared Butters’ incident to former Richmond captain Trent Cotchin’s infamous bump on then-GWS midfielder Dylan Shiel in the 2017 preliminary final, for which he was controversially cleared and permitted to play in the Tigers’ druoght-breaking grand final win.


“We were told at the time, once we’d corrected all the head trauma, once the legal side of things had started, that if that action happened again, it would be a penalty,” King said.

“That [Butters’ incident] is a mirror image of Cotchin on Shiel.”

For King, there is only one reason for Butters’ reprieve – his status as a Brownlow Medal contender, long cited by fans as affordin the game’s biggest stars preferential treatment when dealing with bans.

“I think if it was [St Kilda defender] Jimmy Webster, he [Butters] gets four weeks,” King said.

“But because it’s Zak Butters, and he’s in contention for all the major awards and he’s a star factor player, we go into a different mode. We find ourselves making excuses – ‘Oh, no, he got his hand on the ball, he did this’.

“To me, you’re either taking a stance and you’re protecting the welfare of all players – not just the one guy spearing in, all players – all you’re not.


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“I’m disappointed that after all the progress that we’ve made over the previous 18 months, we’ve given it all back at Round 5.”

However, fellow panelist Leigh Montagna disagreed, saying the AFL has a precedent of not suspending players ‘making a genuine play for the ball’, as Butters did.

“You can’t suspend guys who are genuinely playing the ball,” he said.

“I’m conditioned to believe if you genuinely play the ball, you can’t get suspended. It was like the Peter Wright incident [where he concussed Harry Cunningham] – the only reason Peter Wright got four weeks is because at the last minute he braced, like Matt Crouch did, which is why I’m okay with him getting suspended.


“But we were told if Peter Wright kept his eyes on the ball, he could have knocked Harry Cunningham into next week and it would have been fine, because he was genuinely going for the ball.

“The AFL are telling us that, because they haven’t suspended Zak Butters.

According to Montagna, the collision with Banfield wasn’t the fault of Butters alone.

“I think Zak Butters has gone in with the right technique. We’re rewarding players that are leading with the head,” he said.

Speaking on SEN’s Whateley, Christian explained the decision to clear Butters, as well as the reasoning behind Crouch receiving a suspension for a similar incident, claiming only the Port midfielder fairly contested the ball.

“Zak Butters came in to contest the ball, he had both hands down, he had his eyes on the ball and in fact touched the ball with his left hand. In our judgement, [we] believe that he was contesting the ball in a genuine manner,” Christian said.

“I think we’ve got to be very careful that we allow players the opportunity to contest the ball. It’s an integral part of the way the game’s played and we felt that Zak Butters did that.”


Christian also claimed it was ‘not 100 per cent clear’ that Butters had even taken Banfield high, but said the ‘impact’ segment of MRO rulings was ‘not a consideration’ given the conduct was deemed to be reasonable.

Butters’ suspension escape means he is free to face Collingwood in a blockbuster Round 6 clash at the MCG, while Crouch will miss the Crows’ match against Essendon unless the club successfully appeals the sanction at the AFL Tribunal.

‘Humbling’: Jason Dunstall honoured with Hall of Fame Legend status

Former Hawthorn champion Jason Dunstall has described being elevated to Legend status in the Australian Football Hall of Fame as the highest honour he could imagine – albeit one that’s a little embarrassing.

A four-time premiership player, Dunstall kicked 1254 goals in a glittering 269-game AFL/VFL career before injuries forced him into retirement in 1998.

Only Tony Lockett (1360) and Gordon Coventry (1299) are higher on the competition’s all-time list of leading goal-kickers.


Queensland-born Dunstall will officially be elevated to Legend status at the Hall of Fame induction dinner in Melbourne on June 18.

“It’s an incredible privilege. I feel very humbled, almost to the point of embarrassment,” the 59-year-old told reporters on Monday.

“When you consider there’s just a tick over 30 Legends in the game, it’s the highest honour you can imagine.

“I feel incredibly grateful to the AFL. It’s been a massive part of my life and to sit amongst names that are synonymous with the game now is incredibly humbling.”

Dunstall’s career-best 17 goals against Richmond in May 1992 remains the second-highest tally ever kicked by a player in a single match – behind Fred Fanning’s 18 for Melbourne against St Kilda in 1947.

Dunstall is one of only six players in AFL/VFL history to have kicked more than 1000 goals and was the most prolific spearhead in a golden era for Hawthorn.

Jason Dunstall and Gary Ayres

Jason Dunstall and Gary Ayres enjoy one of their many premiership medals. (Photo by Getty Images)


“I was at the end of the production line at Hawthorn,” he said.

“When you’re full-forward and you’ve got all these great players further afield that continue to pump the ball down to you … I always defer to my teammates.

“I was blessed to be on the receiving end of some of the most skilful players to have ever played the game.”

Three-time Coleman medallist Dunstall came from a great era of full-forwards that included fellow leading goal-kickers Lockett and Gary Ablett.

“Plugger (Lockett) and I had a very healthy rivalry, we had a great competitiveness,” Dunstall said.

“I had a couple of knee (injuries) at the end and my body was just done.

“I wanted to beat him badly, make no mistake about that … but he was just too good.


“We had a good crop of full-forwards at the time that motivated and pushed each other along.”

Dunstall’s career was almost cut short when he suffered a fractured skull from an accidental knock from an opponent’s knee in 1990.

He returned wearing a protective helmet after several weeks on the sidelines and won his fourth flag with the Hawks the following year.

Dunstall spent a brief period assisting Hawthorn coaches Ken Judge and Peter Schwab after his retirement as a player but admits he never had the patience to pursue coaching.

“A little taste of it was enough for me,” Dunstall said.

“I’m still emotionally involved as a Hawthorn supporter through and through, but just not to have some skin in the game is nice.

“I’ve been involved in the club for a long time and did 10 years on the board, so it’s nice to sit back and actually now just be a supporter and watch.”