The ‘sling tackle’ has once again become a topic of discussion after Round 7. A number of incidents involving rough conduct occurred over the weekend, with the interpretation of the ‘sling tackle’ coming under great criticism. Whilst there were numerous incidents across different games, only two suspensions were handed down by the MRP.
Jarrad Waite has accepted a one-match ban for his tackle on Adelaide forward Tom Lynch in North Melbourne’s 59-point defeat of the premiership favorite Crows. Waite was originally offered a two-match suspension but was able to accept the one-match ban with an early guilty plea.
After Waite’s tackle late in the second quarter, the officiating umpire called play on. However, the MRP deemed the tackle to involve a ‘sling’ action and therefore putting the player being tackled at risk. The fact that Lynch’s arms were pinned and his head came into contact with the ground as well as not returning to the game after failing a concussion test provides fairly clear evidence for the MRP to provide Waite with a suspension.
The suspension comes after a six-goal haul in Waite’s first game of 2017. It would be very frustrating for the key forward, who has missed the first six games of the season with a left shoulder injury, sustained in a pre-season match against West Coast. Waite only played two games following Round 12 last season, after starting the first half of the season in All-Australian form. North Melbourne looked solid up forward with Waite at the helm, with the entire forward line proving too strong for Crow’s defense. Waite will be available for selection against Melbourne in Round 9.
In a separate incident, St. Kilda’s Koby Stevens has also accepted a one-match ban for his tackle on Nathan Wilson in their upset win against the Giants on Friday night. The decision by the MRP has come under a great deal of scrutiny with Stevens being awarded a free kick for holding the ball during the game, as a result of the tackle on Wilson. Unlike in the similar Waite incident, Wilson returned to the match after passing the regulation concussion test and played out the remainder of the match.
The contentious decision by the MRP sparks the discussion among football circles about the varying interpretation of the rule. There is no doubt the AFL Umpires Association in conjunction with the MRP have cracked down on the dangerous tackle rule over past seasons, in a bid to further protect the welfare of the player. However, many coaches and players have become infuriated with the lack of clarity within the rule. The fact that umpires are interpreting the rule differently to the MRP, like in the cases of Waite and Stevens, shows the difficulty adjudicating the rule and need for greater clarification.
With the MRP focusing on the ‘sling tackle’ more than ever, the responsibility comes back on the tackler to protect the player being tackled, whether that takes away from the aggressive nature of the game or not, the welfare of the players is the main priority. The ‘sling tackle’ should still be disciplined to the full measure, yet further action needs to be taken in clarifying the rule.