‘Fabric of the game has been challenged’: Why Demons want to appeal van Rooyen’s ban

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A frustrated Melbourne want to head to the AFL’s Appeals Board and challenge Jacob van Rooyen’s two-match suspension, declaring they have a duty to do so for the club and the league as a whole as confusion builds over contact to the head.

The Demons were stunned, and supporters “outraged”, on Tuesday night when the AFL Tribunal upheld the match review officer’s decision to suspend van Rooyen for two matches for striking Gold Coast defender Charlie Ballard.

Lawyers for the Demons were assessing on Wednesday morning what grounds they could appeal on. The AFL needed a decision by midday, with a hearing – if sought – expected to go ahead on Thursday.

Demons coach Simon Goodwin said on Wednesday the club feared “the fabric of the game” – that being players contesting the ball – was under threat.

“Clearly there is a level of frustration, a level of disappointment, for a range of different reasons. Because, clearly, the laws state you can contest the ball, and Jacob’s only thing that he was looking at was contesting the ball, so the fabric of the game has been challenged,” Goodwin said.

“We understand where the game is going in relation to the head. There is no question about that. But there is always going to be incidental incidents in our game, one of them will be when you are contesting the ball, especially in aerial contests. There is always going to be room for that. I am a big advocate of looking after the head, there is no question about that.

Jacob van Rooyen was suspended for two games, in a decision that has created confusion in the league.Credit: AFL Photos

“I have clearly said how we coach our players and teach our players, but we also coach and teach our players to contest the ball if they think they can make the contest. As I said, that was Jacob’s only focus, to contest the ball. Clearly, there has been a shift, and we need to get to the bottom of that as a game.”

Van Rooyen’s action, in which his bicep made contact with Ballard’s head, was considered careless conduct, high contact and high impact.

His counsel Adrian Anderson, as part of a six-point defence, had argued that van Rooyen attempted to make a legitimate attempt to spoil when he made contact with Ballard in the final quarter of Saturday’s match.

But tribunal chairman Jeff Gleeson KC insisted “a reasonable player would have seen that in spoiling the ball in the way he did would almost inevitably have resulted in a forceful blow to Ballard’s head”. Gleeson said the potential to cause serious injury to the neck and the spine was considered in deciding the force was high, and not incidental, upholding the suspension.

Taking a stand: Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin says the AFL Tribunal should not have upheld a two-match ban handed to Jacob van Rooyen.Credit: Getty Images

“He launched and extended his arm out and across Ballard’s head. This was not permitted incidental contact,” Gleeson said.

Ballard was hurt but not concussed in the final-quarter incident and is expected to play against West Coast on Friday.

Rival coaches and senior figures in the game had expected van Rooyen to be cleared. Demons great Garry Lyon said on Wednesday that the tribunal had “got it really, badly wrong”.

“You can reasonably make the case that all the kid was doing was trying to spoil that football with a straight arm. The contact was almost in his armpit. If he deliberately tried to get him in the head with his armpit, then he’s going to be a superstar,” Lyon said on SEN.

Goodwin said the ruling may have been “unjust”.

“We don’t want our players being confused, players throughout the competition. As you can see from the outrage, not only from our supporters but from the footy community, from the media, there is a level of confusion that is out there, all of a sudden,” he said.

“We certainly feel it’s an important process to go through to build that clarity. As I said, it’s either unjust or the fabric of the game has been challenged, and we need to get to the bottom of what it is.”

Goodwin said the Demons were still planning to select van Rooyen, 20, for Saturday’s clash against lowly Hawthorn at the MCG.

“It’s tough for him. Clearly, he is frustrated. He is a 20-year-old that has played six games of footy and he has always been a ball player that just goes after the ball. He is frustrated, he takes it pretty hard, because his name is going through a pretty big process, as a young player to deal with,” Goodwin said.

“We have a lot of support for Jacob, around him, and making sure that he is okay. We also have to make sure he focuses on the potential to be playing this week, and we need him to be able to perform.”

The AFL Tribunal has taken a firm stance on head knocks this year, coming as the league faces two class actions, and other legal cases, over the effects of concussion and degenerative brain disease. This has meant there has even been a greater emphasis on the potential to cause serious injury.

Meanwhile, Goodwin said rebounding half-back Christian Salem (knee) faced more time on the sidelines, but fellow defender Michael Hibberd (managed) was expected to return against the Hawks.

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