'Absolute joke': AFL world erupts over Willie Rioli 'disgrace'

The West Coast Eagles successfully overturned Willie Rioli's one-game ban for rough conduct in what has proven to be a controversial Tribunal decision. Pictures: Getty Images
The West Coast Eagles successfully overturned Willie Rioli's one-game ban for rough conduct in what has proven to be a controversial Tribunal decision. Pictures: Getty Images

The AFL world has been left confused after West Coast Eagles star Willie Rioli had his one-match ban for rough conduct overturned by the Tribunal on Tuesday night.

Rioli was initially banned by the Match Review Officer after collecting Gold Coast Suns rival Matt Rowell high in round one.

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In his first game back after a two-year ban for failing doping tests, Rioli was running back with the flight of the ball on a collision course with Rowell, when he jumped, turned his body to the side and made contact with Rowell's head.

It was a brutal and unfortunate hit which Rowell was luckily able to walk away from unscathed, but West Coast took much of the AFL world by surprise when they opted to appeal.

Fans, rivals and even fellow players were doubly as gobsmacked when the appeal was upheld, with many considering the one-match ban an appropriate sanction for what was ultimately an unfortunate, but not deliberate or malicious incident.

Multiple players and commentators discussed the decision soon after it was handed down.

Fox Footy's Mark Robinson was apoplectic on AFL 360, suggesting the AFL should immediately appeal the Tribunal's decsion.

“I think they should have a press conference and announce they’re appealing that decision. I’m not going after Willie Rioli, I think it’s a fantastic story that Willie is back playing football," he said.

“That was 20 years ago (behaviour), that was, ‘oh no, you can do that’. You just can’t. You just can’t.”

Robinson had said earlier in the program, prior to the Tribunal decison, that he was expecting Rioli's appeal to be unsuccessful and a 'waste of time' for the Tribunal.

Richmond forward and co-host Jack Riewoldt was equally surprised by the verdict, and was concerned about the impact it could have on the rest of the season.

“I did the pub test walking down and sort of sussed a few people out up the top here and I thought it was a week, but clearly it’s not," he said.

“It’s a dangerous precedent to be setting in Round 1 - I shouldn’t say dangerous, an interesting precedent.”

AFL world in shock after highly controversial Tribunal decisions

The confusion in the AFL world was compounded a short time later when Brisbane Lions midfielder Mitch Robinson's appeal against his own rough conduct ban was thrown out.

Robinson had collected Port Adelaide's Xavier Duursma high has the two went to contest the ball, with Robinson similarly turning himself sideways to brace for contact, as Rioli did.

The Tribunal found Rioli was 'not unreasonable' in his action, while they found Robinson was not contesting the ball in his clash with Duursma - a conclusion which left the Lions midfielder 'very upset'.

The Lions midfielder said 'bracing for contact in a contested game comes with a price now' as fans on social media bemoaned the inconsistency between the Match Review Officer and the Tribunal.

Fellow AFL 360 host Gerard Whateley said the two decisions would put both the Tribunal and MRO under significant pressure, with the AFL now unable to count on consistency between the two bodies.

"How’s the AFL supposed to know (what the Tribunal is thinking)?" he posited.

"I think they’ll be more shell-shocked than observers."

The Herald Sun's Jon Ralph said the decison making process was 'clear as mud'.

Where the hell are we now? Clear as mud. MRO and tribunal far apart again. League would need to have a long hard thing about what happens next," he posted on Twitter.

Essendon's Zach Merrett was also puzzled by the desison, telling AFL 360 that he was under the impression the AFL's priority was to protect the head at all costs.

“The priority should always be to protect the guy going for the footy, and I think that’s a pretty dangerous action,” Merrett said.

“My understanding at the moment would be that that would be a week, but it’s a big call and I’m sure that’ll set a precedent moving forward.”

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