How a crackdown on off-ball striking can fix ‘the greatest blight on our game’

AFL: Lion Nick Robertson has used some questionable
tactics to get under the skin of Trent Cotchin and
Dustin Martin.

Nick Robertson of the Lions niggles opponent Dustin
Martin of the Tigers.

ST KILDA coach Alan Richardson has led a chorus of
AFL coaches — both past and present — calling for off-ball
niggling and striking to be stamped out of the game.

The striking debate was once again raised following the tactics
used by Brisbane’s Nick Robertson against superstar Richmond
midfielder Dustin Martin.

Speaking on AFL 360, Richardson gave an insight as to
how he would treat offenders if he was an umpire.

“I think there is a great opportunity for the game; we do
really good work to try and make sure the game is a great
spectacle,” he told Fox Footy.

“I think if the good players have the opportunity to play the
game then the game is going to be in a really good space.

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“If I was an umpire and I saw a player that was not given the
best opportunity to play, you can still be physical and
aggressive, but you take him out of the play then I would pay a
free kick.

“I’ll tell you what the coach will do immediately once his
player has given away a free kick, the message will go down —
stop doing that.

“You can still compete fairly, aggressively and physically. I
reckon too often umpires ignore stuff off the footy that should
be paid.”

Geelong coach Chris Scott was in total agreeance with his St
Kilda counterpart.

“I think I’ve heard a really logical view on this, there’s such
a thing as holding the man,” he told Fox Footy.

“If you grab a guy 80m off the ball, it should be a free kick.

Mark Hutchings of the Eagles remonstrates with Jason Johannisen of the Bulldogs in Round 15.

Mark Hutchings of the Eagles
remonstrates with Jason Johannisen of the Bulldogs in
Round 15.
Source:Getty Images

“I run the risk of being accused of being a little
hypocritical, given the way I played as a defender off the
ball, but one thing I know is players throughout every era were
playing to the rules of the day.”

Essendon great Tim Watson told Talking Footy niggle had
a certain part to play in the game, but only to a legal extent.

“I think there is some niggle that goes on in the game that is
an acceptable part of the game, if it’s a push or a shove,” he
told Channel Seven.

“Players are actually now using their forearm to smash into
players, whether they smash into their back when they’re not
looking, they smash into their side, they smash into their arm
— it’s a form of striking.

“We have to clean it up in the game; it’s the greatest blight
on our game that we allow this type of behaviour to continue
on.

“It’s easy to clean up. All we need to do is pay a free kick;
it’s a strike off the ball.”

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Originally published as
How AFL can fix game’s ‘greatest blight’

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