Holding the ball and deliberate out of bounds interpretation causing frustration
AFL greats Peter 'Crackers' Keenan and David Rhys-Jones were on-field protagonists during their memorable careers, but they share a common view about the modern game.
When I spoke to both men this week, they were typically forthright in their opinions and the two rules that left them most bewildered were the interpretations of holding the ball and deliberate out of bounds.
Keenan, the ruckman in North Melbourne's 1977 premiership team, said the game was being "over-umpired" as exemplified by the remarkable climax to the Fremantle-Carlton game last Saturday night.
In his view, the ball should not have been in the hands of Blue Jack Newnes, whose miraculous 45-metre set shot from the boundary line, after the final siren, sealed a famous victory.
"(Michael) Gibbons should have taken the kick rather than Newnes as he was closest to the ball when it went out of bounds," Keenan said.
"Before that, the free kick downfield against Fremantle's Andrew Brayshaw for late contact on Carlton's Sam Docherty wasn't there either. The deliberate out of bounds against Freo's Matt Taberner was there, but the umpires had let at least four of them go not long before."
Keenan said the AFL and the umpires should share the blame for the confusion surrounding the rules.
Rhys-Jones, Carlton's 1987 Norm Smith medallist, said players, coaches, fans and commentators were unsure about how umpires adjudicated holding the ball and deliberate out of bounds and he was critical of the AFL making changes mid-season. Rhys-Jones was in favour of umpires protecting the player going for the ball when making a judgment on holding the ball.
"Footy is becoming a frustrating game to watch and it's turned into a farce," he said.
"I know there is a grey area in our game, but it needs to be a lot more black and white about what the interpretations are. The AFL has to tell us how it wants the rules to be interpreted because at this point in time it's a guess.
"Thankfully, we are in isolation because there is nothing else to do. If COVID-19 doesn't kill us, the AFL will."
Last week, I nominated the most improved players from nine clubs and here are those from the remaining nine.
HAWTHORN: James Sicily. The knee injury suffered by the intercept defender against West Coast last Sunday is a huge blow, as he had continued on from his superb 2019. He would be leading the Hawks' best and fairest and was showing much better discipline.
MELBOURNE: Christian Petracca. The powerful Demon is in the elite class this season, breaking packs in the midfield and becoming a potent force in attack.
NORTH MELBOURNE: Jy Simpkin. The speedy midfielder played an integral role in the Kangaroos' wins in the opening two rounds and was superb again against Brisbane last Saturday. He has grown in maturity, showing class and composure with the ball and an impressive work-rate.
PORT ADELAIDE: Zak Butters. After an impressive debut season, the fearless Victorian has played an important role in the Power's rise to top spot. He is tough, skilful, makes good decisions with the ball and applies excellent forward-half pressure.
RICHMOND: Noah Balta. Since being elevated to the seniors, the athletic big man has not missed a beat and impressed as a key defender. He has excellent closing speed and makes good decisions.
ST KILDA: Jack Steele. Renowned as a prolific tackler who can shut down the opposition's best midfielder, Steele has lifted in the offensive side of his game, averaging more contested possessions, clearances, goals and score involvements than last season.
SYDNEY: James Rowbottom. In his second season, he has stepped up to be a regular in the midfield and does not look out of place. Rowbottom is classy, tackles hard and can kick a goal.
WEST COAST: Liam Duggan. The 2018 premiership defender has been one of the Eagles' most consistent. They like the ball in his hands as he uses it well and is composed.
WESTERN BULLDOGS: Bailey Williams. He has impressed with his run and carry from the back half. The versatile defender, who could have been traded at the end of last year, has shown he can play on different-sized opponents.
Question of the week
Dylan Small, of Caulfield, Victoria, asks: Who has been the best father-son selection in AFL/VFL history?
Great question, as a follow-up to last week's lead item on Josh Daicos, the son of former Collingwood champion Peter.
Before the national draft was instituted in 1986, the great Ron Barassi and Carlton's AFL/VFL Team of the Century full-back Stephen Silvagni stood out, but since then dual Brownlow Medallist Gary Ablett junior is the pick of the crop.
But there have been other star sons of guns including Blues veteran Marc Murphy, Essendon pair Dustin Fletcher and Jobe Watson, Cats duo Tom Hawkins and Matthew Scarlett, Giant and former Magpie Heath Shaw, Hawthorn Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell, Melbourne's Jack Viney, Richmond's Matthew Richardson, Sydney co-captain Josh Kennedy, Western Bulldogs ruckman Luke Darcy and West Coast champion Ben Cousins.
- This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.