In yet another heated derby, West Coast secured a convincing victory to put themselves in the box seat for a top two finish. But it is a couple of ugly incidents that have emerged from the match that has the footy world talking.
Alex Silvagni’s off-the-ball hit should be condemned: a cheap shot like that will surely see him rubbed out for a number of weeks. However, the other incident to emerge from Sunday’s incident is perhaps the more controversial.
Following a scuffle between Fremantle’s Nic Suban and Chris Masten, Suban alleged that Masten had bitten him. The matter has been sent to the tribunal, which would suggest that there is some substance to the allegation. While the physical repercussions of a bite are perhaps not as serious as the elbow by Silvagni on West Coast’s Jamie Cripps, it is certainly an ugly look for Masten and the AFL.
Masten character has been backed by his teammates, namely Jack Darling, who described him as a “great character” and a “real team player”. While this may be true, in the heat of battle even the calmest customers can make poor decisions, a la Chris Judd.
Biting and spitting and the like have generally being considered pretty taboo, and rightly so. If the tribunal finds tonight that Masten did indeed bite Suban, they must make a statement and punish him accordingly.
The last time a biting charge was dealt in the AFL was more than two decades ago. In 1991, it was West Coast’s Chris Lewis who was dealt a three-week suspension for biting Melbourne’s Todd Viney.
While the AFL hasn’t had to suspend a player over a biting incident in recent years, this particular case has shades of Nathan Buckley wiping blood on Cameron Ling in 2002 about it. An incident that occurred in poor taste, and generally one not seen in the AFL previously, Buckley only received a one week suspension: you would think that the Masten incident warrants harsher punishment if found to be true.
In 2012, the NRL suspended James Graham for 12 matches for biting Melbourne Storm star Billy Slater on the ear. While contact to the head is rightly considered more severe, the seriousness of the suspension does not bode well for Masten if he is to be found guilty.
All in all it is an ugly look, and the AFL must set a precedent and ensure all players know these actions will not be tolerated in future, and should never occur on the football field at all. At the end of the day AFL players are role models, watched by hundreds of thousands every weekend.
The tribunal has been criticised for being ‘too soft’ this year after it made changes following feedback that players were missing too many games for insignificant incidents. But this is no small incident, so the AFL would be foolish to take it lightly.
If found guilty at tonight’s tribunal hearing, the AFL must come down hard on Masten and suspend him for at the very least the remainder of the home and away season. If they are really serious about stamping out these sorts of incidents in our game, Masten might have to kiss his 2015 tilt at a premiership goodbye.