GEELONG'S treatment of the Port Adelaide Football Club has been condemned by rival clubs, with West Coast chief Trevor Nisbett declaring the Cats deserved to be the target of a full-scale retribution for their blatant pursuit of Travis Boak.
''I don't care whether a club is in the firing line for finals or not,'' said Nisbett, ''it's out of the rugby league handbook and I just hope we're not going to see the game stoop to these levels.
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''I know if it happened to our club we wouldn't be sitting down and accepting it. We'd be going in and making big offers to all their players. If anyone tried to poach one of our players during the season when he was contracted we'd go back and try to poach as many of theirs as possible.''
Sydney boss Andrew Ireland told The Age that the excuse that the introduction of free agency had changed the landscape was irrelevant in the case of Boak, the reigning Port club champion.
''My concern in this case is that we're not talking about a free agent and you would hope that when free agency does come in it wouldn't become open slather,'' he said. ''We understand that there are players at our club about to become free agents who may be having talks with clubs through their managers, but we would be disappointed if it happened to a contracted player who was not a free agent.''
While Ireland and Nisbett both conceded every club approached players mid-season from time to time, Ireland added: ''You would hope that it could be done more discreetly.''
While Port Adelaide remains confident it will retain Boak, football boss Peter Rohde admitted the public nature of Chris Scott's arrival in Adelaide four days ago with his captain, Joel Selwood, and Brownlow medallist Jimmy Bartel was a distraction for his club.
Port denied a report that contract talks had begun between the 23-year-old's management and the club, but that process could begin as early as next week.
However, Geelong's behaviour - never before under the current rules has a club so openly approached a player during the season - has upset clubs across the AFL. Premiership coach Mick Malthouse questioned on 3AW on Monday night whether Geelong would have attacked a player from a powerful club in such a manner.
Geelong tried to explain the mission as one that Port had known about - a matter of some
contention, which prompted Rohde to contact the Cats football lieutenant Neil Balme two days ago.
While Port is prepared to let the matter rest, club CEO Keith Thomas stated on Monday: ''If Matthew Primus, Domenic Cassisi and Travis Boak were to role into Geelong to meet with Joel Selwood I am sure Brian Cook, his players and supporters would feel more than a little disrespected.''
Cats president Colin Carter responded: ''It was not our intention to show disrespect to anybody.''
Added Scott: ''It was not a clandestine mission. We certainly didn't advertise it. We preferred if no one knew about it.''
The increasingly familiar refrain that the AFL system must learn to live with such brazen tactics has not been supported by clubs who agreed that openly interviewing rival players during the season would damage the fabric of the game.
While AFL football boss Adrian Anderson said Geelong had no case to answer in terms of rule breaches, the league is reviewing the contentious rule 4.7 relating to poaching. Anderson has said he has no desire for the competition to become an NRL-style system.
Added Nisbett: ''If that's the way they [Geelong] want to play it then that is the way we will play it where a club does that to us. If I was Port I certainly wouldn't be dealing with Geelong where Travis Boak is concerned.
''The guy has a contract and their [Port Adelaide's] season is not over. It's just wrong.''