The collision between Essendon midfielder Heath Hocking and Richmond’s Ben Lennon. Photo: Pat Scala
The evolution of the AFL’s stance on head high contact since the Jack Viney incident in round seven is set to reach another critical juncture.
How the match review panel views the collision between Essendon midfielder Heath Hocking and Richmond’s Ben Lennon in Saturday night’s Dreamtime match will provide another intriguing insight into interpretations of the bump.
Big names Adam Goodes and Steele Sidebottom could also be slapped with bans after having their feet off the ground when they laid bumps during the weekend's matches.
The action in which Hocking collected Lennon high was similar to the action in the contentious incident between Sydney midfielder Dan Hannebery and Hocking’s Bombers teammate Michael Hurley in round nine.
As in Hannebery's case, Hocking appeared to crouch down low with his head and put his hands out to gather the ball before collecting Lennon in the head as he twisted his body.
And like Hurley, Lennon was hunched forward with his head near the ball and took the contact head on before falling backwards.
Essendon hopes the match review panel decides it has no choice but to give Hocking the same leniency it afforded Hannebery, who was cleared after the panel deemed the Swans player “was contesting the ball and had no realistic alternative”.
Should that be the case, it will strengthen the growing notion that the AFL is softening its stance on the duty of care that players must have for an opponent with his head over the ball.
If the panel does decide that Hocking’s action deserves to be graded, the potential penalty could be significant given the Bomber is already saddled with 85 carry-over points and a 10 per cent loading.
There are concerns that the AFL is blurring its approach to head-high contact began after the two-match suspension that the tribunal handed down to Melbourne youngster Viney was thrown out on appeal.
This decision followed sometimes hysterical commentary about the direction of the game and comments from AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou that Viney had been “very unlucky” to receive a suspension.
It was reported on Sunday that two of the three tribunal members who handed Viney the two-match suspension are now considering their positions; they are unhappy with their treatment and believe that Demetriou’s comments between the tribunal decision and the appeal were inappropriate.
The tribunal members in question, Wayne Schimmelbusch and Wayne Henwood, have declined to comment publicly.
The incidents involving Goodes and Sidebottom will be viewed differently to that of Hocking's because both men jumped before collecting opponents high.
If Sidebottom’s bump - which left St Kilda youngster Maverick Weller with concussion - is deemed to be reckless conduct, high impact and high contact, the Pies star faces a four-match ban that would be reduced by one with an early plea. The Magpies' next three games are against Melbourne, Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn.
Sidebottom has a clean record and the Pies would be hoping he might receive only a two-match suspension, which would make him available for the crucial game against the Hawks.
Goodes will also have the benefit of a clean record when he is judged on his high bump on Joel Selwood. The fact that the Cats skipper finished out the game could also work in Goodes’ favour.
Given that the Swans come up against Gold Coast (away) and Port Adelaide (home) in the next fortnight, a suspension to Goodes would be ill-timed, especially as the dual Brownlow medallist has found form in recent weeks.
Carlton speedster Chris Yarran is also on report for striking Brisbane’s Pearce Hanley in the chest, but it is likely the panel will determine that the contact was below that required to warrant a ban.
Yarran also has a clean record, so he would be able to accept a reprimand if his strike was deemed worthy of the lowest grading for suspension.