Automatic AFL punch bans coming: Higgins

Jason Phelan
Shaun Higgins believes automatic suspension for punching is coming in the AFL

North Melbourne veteran Shaun Higgins can see a time when the AFL will be forced to automatically suspend players for punching an opponent, regardless of the force of the blow.

The Kangaroos star, who is routinely targeted physically by opposition players, feels punches thrown to the body are part of the game that should be eradicated.

The practice - carried out in a bid to establish a psychological edge, put an opponent off his game or shake a tag - has been in the spotlight following Andrew Gaff's eight-game ban for breaking Andrew Brayshaw's jaw.

At his tribunal hearing, the Eagles highlighted several incidents where Gaff was targeted off the ball before he lashed out at Brayshaw.

Gaff also admitted to punching Brayshaw in the chest to give himself some space before the ugly incident played out.

Under the current guidelines, players are fined if they intentionally strike an opponent with low impact to the body.

But Higgins feels that's not enough of a deterrent.

"I think it's probably going to get to that stage," Higgins replied when it was put to him that bans for any sort of punch were required.

"We probably went down that path 12 to 18 months ago, didn't we? Then we've sort of backtracked a little bit for whatever reason.

"I would imagine that most players, the AFL and clubs would agree that there's no place in the game for punches being thrown."

While Higgins is all for outlawing niggling punches, he still feels there's room for a level of physical aggression.

"It's still a contact sport," he said.

"It's a physical sport but I think punching we can definitely eradicate from the game.

"Bumping and trying to get mentally on top of the opposition and physically trying to impose yourself is still part and parcel of the game but there's definitely a line there.

"It's probably been crossed a number of times this year."