One of the AFL’s most questionable rules is again under fire, with calls to end the charade.
Plus the Swan playing the “Dusty role” who must be stopped, the soon-to-be free agent signing that makes little sense and the frank admission on a looming trade exodus.
The big issues from Round 19 of the 2022 AFL season analysed in Talking Points!
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‘SUB’-STANDARD RULE REARS HEAD
Richmond is far from the only offender, but was Friday night’s ‘medical sub’ of Ben Miller the final nail in the coffin for a rule that has been maligned from the moment it was introduced?
Miller was subbed out midway through the final quarter with what the club has said is a groin injury, which saw the key defender replaced by small pressure forward Maurice Rioli Jr.
Rioli executed a brilliant chase down tackle late in the contest to thwart a Fremantle run towards goal, but there was external scepticism over the feasibility of the sub.
What kept that suspicion alive was the mixed messaging post-game.
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said it was a “calf” concern and was “cramping significantly”, while teammate Nathan Broad said Miller was suffering from “full body cramps”.
The medical sub rule states that it’s “reasonably determined the player will be medically unfit to participate in any match for at least the next 12 days”.
The external scepticism over the sub rule wasn’t helped when, less than 24 hours later, Geelong subbed out ruckman Rhys Stanley against Port Adelaide and brought on fellow ruck option Shannon Neale to replace him.
“How opportune,” Nathan Buckley said on Fox Footy at the time.
“Put it this way, it’s not going to stop the talk about how the medical sub is used.”
It should be said of the Cats that Stanley’s substitute was far less beneficial than the Tigers’, given Stanley had been a clearance beast in the opening half and the best player on the ground.
Additionally, Stanley is expected to be out for the “medium” term with the knee concern, according to Chris Scott post-game.
Still, to the end of round 10 this season, 15 players who had been substituted out of a match had gone on to play the following week.
At its inception, the rule was set to be one that could only be used in the event of a concussion, but ultimately became one that could only be used for an injury of note.
Whether the league moves to clamp down on the rule in the lead-up to the finals series is unlikely, but surely the more likely option is a change at the end of the year.
One things for sure though, according to Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph: A change is needed.
“There’s always going to be suspicion around these changes because they seem so tactical in terms of the timing of it … it’s why you’d love the AFL to make a decision cut and dried, they either miss the next week or they can be subbed whenever they want because there’s always suspicion about it,” Ralph told Fox Footy.
AFL’s ‘SMALLEST CENTRE HALF-FORWARD’ ON ‘A LEVEL ABOVE MOST’
Tom Papley has hit a ridiculous purple patch of form at the right time of the year – and his versatility and polish is proving a nightmare for opposition sides to handle.
Papley was the most influential – and arguably best – player on the ground in the Swans’ win over Adelaide on the weekend, booting 2.2 from 22 disposals and contested possessions to cap off a brilliant five-week form patch.
The 26-year-old on Saturday slipped in and out of several roles with aplomb.
He was electric close to goal as a small forward, snapping a clever goal and, most importantly, applying excellent defensive pressure with five tackles, including three laid inside forward 50.
Papley also worked hard up the ground, burning off his opponent and consistently presenting as a leading option. He had eight inside 50s and 391m gained as he brought his teammates into the game.
Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy during Fox Footy’s call of the Swans-Crows match labelled Papley the “smallest centre half-forward in the game right now”.
On Sunday night’s edition of The First Crack, North Melbourne champion David King said Papley was playing Sydney’s “Dustin Martin role”.
“If you haven’t got a plan for Tom Papley, give it away,” King explained.
“His selection on where to go with the ball is next-level at the moment, he’s not getting the plaudits he should. If he wore number four for Richmond, you’d be saying ‘this bloke’s unbelievable’. Everything he does hits the scoreboard.”
Perhaps the most blistering aspect to Papley’s performance was the dynamic edge he brought to the Swans’ on-ball brigade, finishing with five clearances – including two out of the centre. He kicked a breathtaking goal in the first term out of a centre bounce, initially winning the clearance, sprinting forward 30m and launching a long goal from outside 50 on the run.
“I like this element to his game where John Longmire is throwing him into centre bounce for this reason,” Bulldogs games record-holder Brad Johnson told Fox Footy. “He gets the ball out then he pushes forward hard and is able to get on the scoreboard.
Above all, Papley’s cleanliness and polish in a game that, at times, turned into a dogfight stood out on the ground. The fact 12 of his 22 disposals turned into Swans scores highlights how influential he was on the outcome of the game.
“Tom Papley is separating the field with how clean his ball-handling is at the moment,” Healy said.
“He’s a level above most players on the ground.”
Papley missed the first six rounds of this season due to a hamstring injury. Missing that many games means it’s unlikely he’s in the conversation for back-to-back All-Australian blazers.
But the Swans star is poised to have a significant say in how far his team goes in September this year.
WHICH AMON SUITOR IS CLOSER TO A FLAG? AND COULD HINKLEY MOVE BE A ‘WIN-WIN’?
Should Port Adelaide’s Karl Amon exercise his free agency rights, which club should he go to?
It’s the question the 26-year old will no doubt be playing over and over in his head as he weighs up his future.
Amon has been courted by several Victorian clubs including St Kilda, Melbourne, Hawthorn and Carlton, while the latter recently pulled out of the race.
It’s believed he could field deals worth around $650,000 a season over five seasons, with the Hawks and Saints considered his two most likely landing spots.
Asked which of the two Melbourne-based clubs are closer to a flag, triple-premiership winning Lion Jonathan Brown said on Fox Footy: “You’d have to say Hawthorn, because I don’t think St Kilda’s current crop can win a flag, and I’m not sure how much salary cap space they’ve got.
“The Hawks are obviously in a longer rebuild, but they would have cap space. Although Amon’s mum works for the club (Saints).”
To which Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph responded with a laugh: “I wouldn’t want to work with my mum — I reckon he’s going to the Hawthorn Football Club.”
No matter which way he goes, it certainly seems inevitable that Amon will depart Alberton after eight seasons at the club.
Power football boss Chris Davies even admitted last month the “longer it goes” that Amon stays unsigned beyond 2022, the “less likely” it is he’ll remain at the club.
It comes after a career-best 2021 season where Amon emerged as one of the Port’s most important players, finishing fourth in the club’s best and fairest in a campaign where it finished second on the ladder.
But in 2022 Port Adelaide was up always up against it to make finals from the early parts of the season, coming slow out of the gates to start the campaign 0-5.
The Power have gone 8-5 since and took it right up to Melbourne and Geelong over the last fortnight, but it now appears their finals dream is over.
There was some questions being asked of coach Ken Hinkley’s future amid their slow start — despite being contracted for 2023 — given he’s now been at the helm for 10 seasons.
Port Adelaide great Kane Cornes wondered if Hinkley might be a good fit for North Melbourne, who’s on the search for its third coach in as many years after parting ways with David Noble, if it goes down the path of pursuing someone with experience amid interest in Alastair Clarkson.
“It’s possible, I think North Melbourne’s priority is with Clarkson, but Hinkley is almost a better fit,” he said on Channel 9’s Sunday Footy Show.
“If you look at when he took over at Port Adelaide, it’s about as good a comparison as you can get at North. Complete mess — teammate had just lost his life on a football trip, the coach had gone, the president had gone, no one was turning up the games, the club was financially a mess. Five wins in 2012, three wins in 2011.
“He came in with good people around him, and we won a final the following year in 2013.
“If you’re looking for a rebuilding coach who sets really hard standards and is a good honest person who can still have some fun, then that would work.
“And I think that probably works for Port Adelaide as well after 10 years, a fresh start perhaps … it could be a win-win.”
MOVE THAT MAKES NO SENSE? LOBB-DOGS LINK NOW ‘EVEN STRANGER’
As Jamarra Ugle-Hagan emerged on Saturday night with a breathtaking breakout game, many footy fans’ attention promptly turned to the Bulldogs’ strategy at the trade table.
And the question was posed: Do the Western Bulldogs REALLY need Rory Lobb?
Rival clubs believe the contracted Lobb will be playing for the Bulldogs next season, with the key forward seeking a move away from the Dockers and a multi-year deal worth $1.5 million.
Despite being the Dockers’ leading goalkicker in a career-best season.
Despite key forwards seemingly being a glaring chasm on the Dockers’ list.
Despite key forwards not being a glaring chasm on the Bulldogs’ list.
Ugle-Hagan came of age on Saturday night, booting a career-high five goals as the Bulldogs upset Melbourne at Marvel Stadium.
The No. 1 pick thrived in a forward line that also included Aaron Naughton and Josh Bruce, with Naughton booting two goals and Bruce giving Melbourne’s defence another target to worry about as he continues his comeback from an ACL rupture.
And remember fellow key forward Josh Schache has been on the fringe of the Bulldogs’ best 22 in recent years, while forward-ruck No. 2 pick Sam Darcy is on the verge of an AFL debut after starring at VFL level following an injury-forced delayed start to his 2022 campaign. Then there’s Tim English, too.
And the Dogs want to add Lobb to that mix?
“Tonight makes the Rory Lobb link even stranger for me, they have what they need in the front half,” ex-Crows and Cats goalkicker Josh Jenkins told AFL Nation.
Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney told Channel 7: “I don’t think Rory Lobb fits in this (Bulldogs) team.”
Perhaps it’d work if the Dogs wanted to move either Naughton or Darcy into defence. But Naughton has averaged over 2.5 goals per game this season, while Darcy has starred
Meanwhile, Friday night’s draw suggested the club that arguably needs Lobb the most is the one he’s contracted to for another season.
Lobb has been crucial to Fremantle’s stunning surge up the ladder this season, booting 30 goals from 16 games.
But without Lobb on Friday night – he was ruled out with a shoulder injury – the Dockers were exposed inside 50, kicking just seven goals despite having 50 inside 50 entries.
And beyond Lobb, four of Freo’s next highest five goalkickers are small forwards in Lachie Schultz (23 goals), Michael Frederick (19 goals), Bailey Banfield (18 goals) and Michael Walters (12 goals).
“I think they struggled without Rory, absolutely. He’s extremely important for them,” triple premiership forward Cameron Mooney told Fox Footy Live.
“I look at their forward line going into finals … it is a worry for me. It’s not something that would scare me if I was a really strong defence.
“They are relying too much on their small forwards to kick a winning score and that‘s a really hard thing to do come finals time.”
Dockers coach Justin Longmuir said Lobb had a role to play for the Dockers over the next two seasons.
“I’m really strong on the fact that Rory has got a year to run on his contract and he is a really important player to us,” Longmuir told SEN.
“If he was out there last (Friday) night, maybe we make a bit more of those contest situations in our forward 50.
“Players like Rory, they are really important because they allow you to play two rucks and that extra tall forward at the same time. So, just really important to our structure.
“Like I’ve said all along, he is contracted. I see him playing at the club next year.”
Seemingly in its premiership window now, Fremantle is set to be aggressive at the trade table this off-season, with Melbourne star Luke Jackson reportedly its No. 1 target and Angus Brayshaw not far behind.
But acquiring Jackson will likely force a salary squeeze, with several players likely to find new homes such as Lobb, Griffin Logue, Blake Acres and Nathan Wilson.
So Lobb could be squeezed out of the Dockers when they need him most. Then how he’d squeeze into the Bulldogs’ line-up remains a mystery.
FREO’S MARQUEE MAN NOT THE BIG LOSS MANY PREDICT
Fremantle’s finals charge won’t hinge on Nat Fyfe’s return, with Ben Dixon labelling the two-time Brownlow Medallist’s absence as “not a huge loss”.
Fyfe injured his hamstring in the thrilling draw with Richmond on Friday night, and was subbed out of the game minutes into the third term.
But Fox Footy Live’s Cameron Mooney said the Dockers looked a better midfield side without Fyfe.
“It’s not as dangerous I think as everyone’s going to think it is,” he said.
“They had an outstanding first part of the year. This midfield has grown. Brayshaw, whose new nickname might be Charlie by the end of the year – he’s played that good of a year, then you see (Will) Brodie, (Caleb) Serong, (Blake) Acres, (Jordan) Clark, (Travis) Colyer and all these guys have come through the midfield and they’ve grown on the back of not having Fyfe there.
“Even tonight, Fyfe there for that first half through the midfield, things weren’t working out. He goes off with that hamstring injury and their second half was outstanding.
“Once he went off, those young guys pick up the slack again. They don’t need him in there as much as everybody thinks.
“When he comes back, he should be playing as a forward with bits and pieces in the midfield. Allow this young group, who has grown so much in the last six months, to take control.”
Without Fyfe in 2022, Fremantle have won nine of 12 matches.
Dixon believes the Dockers have the depth to cover Fyfe’s absence in the run home to finals.
“I think Moons is spot on with Fyfe out, it’s not a huge loss,” he said on Fox Footy Live.
“You can cover it with their system. It gives an opportunity to someone else.
“It’s not as big a loss as it would have been two years ago under the different regime at Fremantle.”
In 2021, the Dockers enjoyed just a 50 per cent win rate without Fyfe.
Under Ross Lyon, the Dockers still managed 23 wins and 26 losses when Fyfe was sidelined, including the horror 2016 campaign where Fremantle managed just four wins for the year.
Fyfe has played just six games this season, after struggling to shake shoulder, knee and back injuries in 2022.
He endured an interrupted pre-season when he contracted an infection in his surgically repaired shoulder, putting his start to 2022 on the back burner once again.
Since his return, Fyfe is yet to collect more than 22 touches a game as he plays more time forward.
Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir has previously pleaded for the media to “give the guy a break” amid frustration at the added interest in Fyfe and where he plays.
“I don’t get asked about the other guys in the squad around game time and forward/mid split, when his rotations are,” Longmuir lamented earlier this month.
“I’m not going to give opposition a headstart on what we’re doing with Nathan Fyfe every week. It’s supposed to be a secret, some of this stuff.
“I get asked 15 questions a week on Fyfe’s game time and split. Give the guy a break.
“We all want him back to his best, it’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Speaking after the Richmond draw, Longmuir described Fyfe’s latest injury setback as another “road bump”.
“He’s a pro, he had a smile on his face. He got around his teammates,” Longmuir revealed.
“We’ll get it scanned.
“This is a road bump. We’ve got over his big injuries. Sometimes when you are trying to come back and be really committed, you can have little setbacks.
I don’t think we’ve ever been reliant on one person this year. We’ve got players who can step up and fill the void.”
FEARS HISTORY SET TO REPEAT IN SYDNEY’S WEST
At least four players are considering their future at Greater Western Sydney, with fears of a “mass exodus” at the club.
But former GWS coach Leon Cameron says that sort of situation is nothing new for the club.
Inaugural skipper Tom Scully, Dylan Shiel and Jon Patton all departed together in 2018.
In 2020, the Giants lost Aidan Corr, Jeremy Cameron and Zac Williams.
Now, it’s believed Tim Taranto, Jacob Hopper, Bobby Hill and Tanner Bruhn are all weighing up where they want to play for 2023 and beyond.
“It’s unresting,” he conceded on SEN, about all the trade whispers.
“You can’t clearly go year in and year out and say, ‘okay, I know I’ve got a similar squad from last year to the next year’ because of the challenges you had.
“There’s going to be a story on this regardless because it’s happened before.
“So if you look at it, it’s normally around that three player mark.”
Cameron conceded the club faces an ongoing challenge to retain players, given the market.
“To hold players up in here in a growth market has been challenging,” he said.
“Everyone knows that… but somewhere along that line you want that, not stability, but that continuity.
“If that means one or two players have to go this year to make sure the cap is under control… that’s up to the (list manager) to make sure that they get that right… or if they are thinking about adding a ruckman or a forward or a backman.
“That is going to play out and it’s going to be really interesting.”
Journalist Sam McClure believes the Giants are looking to offload some players amid a salary cap squeeze.
“I’ve already talked about Tim Taranto, I think that he won’t be there next year. Jacob Hopper you can now put in that same situation, I believe will leave GWS this trade period with one year left on his deal,” he said on 3AW last week.
“Bobby Hill and Tanner Bruhn, I think, will both join them out the exit door.
“This is once again salary cap based. We talk a lot about the Giants and the fact they pay their four highest-paid players the best part of $4 million per season – (Stephen) Coniglio, (Josh) Kelly, (Toby) Greene and (Lachie) Whitfield; who are all stars.
“And Nick Haynes … he’s coming to the last two years of a heavily back-ended contract.
“When you add him in, and Taranto and Hopper – if they were all playing in the same side next year, they’d be taking up $6.5 million of the Giants’ $13 million salary cap. That’s half.”