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AFL Round Table: Just how much power should clubs have over bye-week travel?

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Where have all the taggers gone? (1:23)

Matt Walsh & Jake Michaels discuss the disappearance of tagging in the AFL, and if the role could limit recent dominant performances from midfielders. (1:23)

Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 15, including whether teams should have a say in what players do over the bye week, what this weekend's most tantalising match-up is, and more.


How much power should clubs have over player bye week travel?

Rohan Connolly: They're an employer, they're not parents. That said, you'd hope their employees, being of adult age, were mature enough to work out that going on a mid-season "bender" probably isn't a great idea whilst attempting to carve out a professional sporting career, and that's even those who aren't already under the microscope for previous misdemeanours. Not for the first time, one or two miscreants threaten to ruin what might be for the vast majority. Not the sharpest tools in the shed some of these guys, are they?

Jake Michaels: I lean towards the 'not so much power' side of the spectrum. Unless there are training sessions or mandatory obligations, why should players be held hostage by their clubs? Could you imagine the uproar if this happened in literally any other industry? The vast majority of players aren't misbehaving during the bye weeks, so just deal with and punish those who are, and let the rest of them live their lives. It's really as simple as that.

Matt Walsh: They shouldn't have any power to enforce anything, but I believe they should be able to 'strongly recommend' that players don't go overboard during a bye week. Having said that, I would think more than 99% of AFL players have an understanding of what passes the 'pub test' and what doesn't, and to me it seems Jordan De Goey is either very out of touch of club expectations or disregards them anyway. After the 12 months he's had, I'm honestly gobsmacked. Go to Noosa next time, sheesh.

Jarryd Barca: Not a lot, and they never should. In saying that, there needs to be a level of common sense applied by players when on their mid-season breaks, and while each player will have different hobbies and have a right to engage in completely different lifestyles off the field, they each have a brand to represent and values to uphold so should be held responsible for their own decisions. Trust between player and club is critical, but footy clubs don't 'own' their players, so to speak, so putting any blame on Collingwood in this De Goey situation is absolutely farcical.

Would the AFL benefit from a last touch rule?

RC: I've changed my mind on this one. A couple of years ago I probably would have said yes, as I felt the "insufficient intent" interpretation was applied both erratically and inconsistently, and had moved so far from "deliberate" as to be an entirely different rule, anyway. I still think the latter, but I do think the application of it now is a lot more predictable and consistent. And if player all know what they can and can't get away with (and it's not much at all now) I don't see the pressing need to introduce yet another rule change the game isn't yelling out for.

JM: C'mon, do we really need to answer this!? I'm not a traditionalist by any means but this is one part of the game which doesn't need tweaking at all. It's also worth remembering that players are able to catch a rare breather of 20 seconds or so each time the ball goes out of bounds, as the boundary umpire sets up for a throw-in. Paying a free kick against the team who touched the ball last may speed up the game, but it will leave players even more gassed and the quality of the sport will suffer.

MW: That depends who you ask. There are some teams who thrive on creating scoring opportunities from turnovers, and probably wouldn't mind fewer stoppages. But there are other teams, like Carlton, who prefer high-stoppage encounters as they have time to set up and plot the next clearance - as Sam Docherty openly admitted to Channel 7 a couple of weeks ago. Overall? It would probably help the game 'open up' more, but at what expense? Leave the bloody game alone.

JB: They AFL would benefit from the rule if they scrap other existing rules such as the ridiculous 'stand' rule, which was also introduced as a mechanism to help 'open up' the game - something the AFL has so thoroughly crave given they're considering this new 'last touch' rule. But, if it comes in as just an additional rule, bin the idea now. Our game is unique and boundary throw ins are a part of that. Let's keep it that way.

What is Round 15's most tantalising matchup?

RC: This has got to be the best round of the season, and Saturday, in particular, is an absolute belter with three terrific games back-to-back. But surely it has to be Thursday night's Melbourne-Brisbane clash at the MCG, the top two teams locking horns. Things have got very challenging for the Demons suddenly, no Max Gawn now, but it's still a massive test for the Lions, only 2-2 from the past month and with a hideous record at the G, where they've lost the last nine, not won since 2014. and indeed haven't played at all for more than two years. It should be a belter.

JM: On paper, it's one of the great and competitive rounds of 2022, but can you really go past Thursday night's epic between the Demons and Lions at the MCG? Not only do these two occupy the top two spots on the ladder, but there's plenty of fascinating storylines to watch for - perhaps none more than how Melbourne respond (if at all) from their recent hat-trick of losses. I've got a feeling they'll get back to winning ways. Get the popcorn ready, this one is MUST WATCH!

MW: It's hard to know where to look! First against second, third against fifth, fourth against sixth... it's all happening! But for me, it's the teams in the lower reaches of the eight who both really need a win - Sydney and St Kilda. Both coming off shock losses to lower-ranked opponents, both were also at times talked about as top four fancies. That will be all but impossible for the loser of this clash who could find themselves outside the eight come the end of the round. Spicy.

JB: I can't really look past the Geelong-Richmond game on Sunday - two teams that have been in the upper echelons of the ladder for many years now and with genuine premiership claims in 2022. Win this, and your flag credentials are flexed. Dusty returns, Danger's back, Hawkins and Cameron in full flight - it's gonna be a ripper!

What is Luke Jackson really worth?

RC: I find these sort of questions difficult to answer, as the market sets the going rates, thus any answer has to be in that context. To be perfectly frank, compared to other more important jobs, I find the sort of salaries even our relatively big fish in a small pond are paid are obscene. OK, rant over. If the $10.5 million over seven years allegedly being offered has any substance in reality, I think it's pretty ridiculous. We're talking about a 42-game player in only his third season for whose returns, for all his potential, have been pretty modest. I would have thought half that amount would be a lot closer to the mark.

JM: Most regular ESPN AFL readers and ESPN Footy Podcast listeners will know my thoughts on ruckmen by now, so the idea of a ruck in his third year (regardless of the potential) set to earn well over $1 million per season just seems laughable. Sorry, but I'm just not paying that. Pay your superstar midfielders and key position players but don't overspend in the ruck. Aside from Max Gawn last year, tell me the last top three or four ruck who played in a premiership team? Been a while, huh...

MW: I know the inflation is our of control, and the cost of living is going up, but some of the figures ($1.5+ million per year) being bandied about for Jackson's services is unbelievable. Tim English has re-signed for the Dogs, so teams out west are keen for Jackson's services, but paying overs for a ruckman is something I don't believe in. Flip a second-rounder for a serviceable ruck and let your mids get to work - Jarrod Witts was picked up for two picks after 40, and Mark Pittonet for a pick roughly in the 50s.

JB: I'll prefix this by saying I'm the furthest thing from a player manager, so what do I know, right? But, if you base it on his current output -- 5.6 kicks per game, 0.58 goals, 21.9% hitouts to advantage (ranked 79th in the league), 32.6% hitouts won (61st), and 0.7 marks inside 50 (13th for ruckmen) -- then that's hardly even worth the competition average. Jackson's sky-high potential clearly helps his cause, but as Matt said, overpaying a ruckman is fraught with danger. As we see time and again with players on the open market, he'll be worth more to a WA side than he is to the Demons, and this next month of footy, without Max Gawn, is his chance to prove his worth.