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AFL Round Table: Is it time the AFL introduced a send-off rule? Should Nat Fyfe have been suspended for umpire contact?

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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 16, including whether the AFL needs a send off rule, if Nat Fyfe was lucky to avoid suspension and the current top eight team we trust least.


Is it time the AFL introduced a send-off rule?

Rohan Connolly: No. And had the Tom Stewart-Dion Prestia incident happened in a lower-profile game, and involved two players of lesser note, we wouldn't be asking. These types of incidents are so rare now that when they do occur they're highlighted beyond the level of problem they actually represent. The fact they are rare makes the "send-off" more unnecessary, whilst always carrying the risk of an immediate punishment that turns out to be wrong, or with important mitigating factors. And those factors can be critical in terms of where is the line between a serious and regulation offence.

Jake Michaels: I'm a bit of a fence-sitter when it comes to this topic but I reckon I'm starting to tip towards the 'introduce a send-off rule' side. What irks me most is that if Saturday's Geelong vs. Richmond game was a Grand Final, Stewart would be the Norm Smith Medal winner. That's a horrible look. At the moment a team can benefit from a Stewart-like action, where an opponent is ruled out of the game with concussion. That's not right. What I will say is that if we did have a send off rule, we would need to use it sensibly, and not get carried away. If so, I think it can work.

Matt Walsh: Yes, and I thought this four years ago after Andrew Gaff whacked Andy Brayshaw. I think it could be brought in thoughtfully, and only in instances which are truly off-the-ball non-football acts (like Gaff on Brayshaw, or Barry Hall on Brent Staker), or for high impact and high contact bumps and raised elbows which truly warrant it. But please, take it out of the umpires' hands.

Jarryd Barca: I don't think so unless it's reserved for the extreme, non-football, cowardly circumstances. While we have a medical substitute in play for teams, which is reserved for injuries and concussions so that teams won't be disadvantaged by a player needing to be taken out of the game, there isn't a need for a send-off rule, so in the Tom Stewart-Dion Prestia case, the Tigers were rightly allowed to bring on a 23rd player. Same calibre player? Of course not, but it's literally the reason the sub rule was implemented, so again, I reiterate, I just don't see how it works, and there's way too much grey area on what could constitute a send-off. Plus, there's no guarantee umpires, or external deliberators, can make a decision swiftly in the middle of the game. Stewart will cop his just punishment in the form of a lengthy suspension.

Should Nat Fyfe have been suspended for making contact with the umpire?

RC: No. I've always thought there's an overreaction in nine cases out of 10 when a player makes contact with an umpire. Of course there are big differences between a player visibly upset or remonstrating about a decision in an emotional state grabbing an umpire, and times when contact is incidental, or who knows, even affectionate. It can never be that black and white. Fyfe was pushed towards the umpire and halted his momentum. He wasn't looking at him, and was most likely unaware it was an umpire, official or trainer. Simple common sense dictates that isn't punishable.

JM: I'm comfortable with him getting off but why did Toby Greene receive a six-week suspension for his umpire contact late last year? Sure, Greene touched Matt Stevic with a little more force than Fyfe, but nowhere near enough to warrant a suspension of that length (even after the Giants' appeal failed). Like many things in football, we desperately need consistency.

MW: I think given prior incidents, he should have been given a week. Pushed by Matt Cottrell? Maybe. But not with enough force that warranted how Fyfe then made contact with umpire Robert O'Gorman. If the rule is you can't touch umps, follow through!

JB: Absolutely not! And I'm that glad common sense was used it isn't funny. He was nudged by Cottrell and instinctively stuck out his arm for balance, so no matter who was standing in the umpire's position, they were always going to cop that little fend off. No malice, not being demonstrative - play on.

Are you prepared to put a red line through the Saints?

RC: In premiership terms? Absolutely. In finals terms? Not definitively just yet, but boy, it's going to be tough. Even the other two teams with whom they're level on eight wins (Dogs and Tigers) have a significant percentage gap on them, and their draw is probably the toughest of any contender, with Carlton, Fremantle and Bulldogs in the next three weeks, and six of the last eight games against top eight teams. Would be a monumental effort from here. I really can't see it happening.

JM: I am. My ladder predictor has them finishing the home and away season down in 12th place, and potentially four wins from the last spot in the top eight. I don't think that's an outrageous take, either. Let's look at their run home - Carlton, Fremantle, Western Bulldogs, West Coast, Hawthorn, Geelong, Brisbane and Sydney. I can't see them winning more than three of those, and that's probably being generous.

MW: No, because any of the top 12 teams can still play finals, and we've already seen sides like the Cats written off in some circles only to look a little silly. They have class across every line, and with Jack Steele back, they'll improve again. Anyone writing them off could look silly pretty quickly, especially given how this season is panning out!

JB: I haven't been too convinced by them most of the season to be honest so yes, I've got a line through them and it's pretty thick. I acknowledge they'll bring back some key players and Steele will be better for the run, but it'll take a gargantuan effort if they can scrape in from here wth one of the toughest runs home in the league.

Which current top eight team do you trust the least?

RC: There's no disrespect intended here, I already showed that pre-season by tipping Collingwood to finish last ... yep, what an idiot! Yes, I think the Pies have been magnificent, and I really admire how quickly Craig McRae and co. have turned things around. But they are cutting things fine, as in three of their last four wins have been by a total of 19 points. Are they as dependable a bet as the Dogs, the Swans, even the Blues? I have my doubts. Then again, maybe I can get it horribly wrong about Collingwood twice in the one season!

JM: Call me crazy but it might be Fremantle. Look, I know they're good, and I know they're making finals, but I still have my doubts. The Dockers have a great defence but it's the midfield and forward line where I think there's a few passengers and where depth is lacking. I feel like I know what I'm getting just about every week from the other seven teams in the top eight but I'm never surprised when the Dockers produce a shocker - as they did this past weekend against Carlton.

MW: I think it's Collingwood, and that's probably me being influenced by the 'new coach factor' and how they fared last season. The Pies have looked excellent, and while I think they lack forward firepower and a genuine 'Tom Hawkins-style' forward, the rest of the make up of that side is pretty solid. The reason I don't trust them? Playing the numbers. They have the worst percentage of any side in the eight, and three sides outside the eight have a greater percentage, with a fourth side, Port, only in arrears by one percent, despite being two games behind.

JB: Collingwood's spot is the one that's most up for grabs and their percentage tells us that. And even with a favourable draw coming up and an opportunity to really entrench themselves in the eight, they still have enough young players in the starting side which makes a late-season drop-off a real possibility. The next month of footy -- matches against gold Coast, North Melbourne, Adelaide and Essendon -- will determine their fate.