AFL greats blast MRO over Naitanui decision

Jason Phelan

Either the AFL rules are wrong or Michael Christian is wrong.

Or maybe the AFL match review officer just had a 'mare.

Frustrated St Kilda legend Nick Riewoldt felt there were no other conclusions left to draw after West Coast star Nic Naitanui failed to overturn a one-game ban at the AFL tribunal on Wednesday night.

The AFL great admitted to growing unease over decisions made by the league's newly-installed disciplinary chief over recent weeks.

But it was the decision to ban Naitanui for one game for his tackle on Port Adelaide's Karl Amon held up against his decision to clear Hawthorn youngster Ryan Burton for his devastating bump that put North Melbourne's Shaun Higgins in hospital with a concussion that has pushed Riewoldt over the edge.

"This has sort of been the tipping point for me," Riewoldt told Fox Footy's AFL360

Saints great Riewoldt has been an outspoken critic of Naitanui's ban. Pic: Getty

"I'm confused ... I don't like it.

"The Nic Naitanui-Ryan Burton scenario is where it gets really confusing.

"Burton comes in and bumps, his alternative is to tackle, he doesn't tackle ... and it was assessed that he couldn't reasonably foresee that (Higgins injury) happening.

"Well, how is Naitanui in his instance any different?

"Either Michael Christian is having an absolute 'mare - he's having a nightmare, he's having an absolute shocker - or the rules are wrong.

"So (Christian's) interpretations are ok but the rules are just fundamentally wrong because we can't end up with those two separate results."

Fellow great Warren Tredrea was another who thought the decision to uphold Naitanui's ban was ridiculous.

AFL football chief Steve Hocking brought Christian in to replace the match review panel in the off-season in a bid to streamline the league's disciplinary process.

Amon was also concussed but Riewoldt described Naitanui's action as "a good football tackle" that was a free kick in the back at worst.

In explaining why he felt Burton had no case to answer, Christian was at pains to point out that the bump is still alive and well - and legal - in the AFL.

But players must execute them correctly.

The AFL tribunal upheld Naitanui's ban for rough conduct. Pic: Getty

If they do so and an accidental injury occurs that a player couldn't reasonably foresee then most of the time they won't have a case to answer.

But that doesn't wash with Riewoldt.

"We were told that accidents happen after (Burton) then Naitanui lays a tackle, but now we're not allowed accidents?" an incredulous Riewoldt asked.

"I think what we've seen this year, the body of work from the MRO and the results that have gone certain ways, I'm just confused.

"We went to a one-man panel to have more consistency ... but what happens if the one man actually just gets a bit confused himself?"