Western Bulldogs’ Lachie Hunter takes leave of absence after personal issues

Western Bulldogs midfielder Lachie Hunter, the player at the centre of the Luke Beveridge-Tom Morris blow up, will take an indefinite leave of absence from the club while he deals with personal issues.

“The cub will support Lachie as he works through some individual challenges, which have affected his health and wellbeing,” the Bulldogs said in a statement on Tuesday.

Western Bulldogs Head of Football, Chris Grant added: ““Lachie has been dealing with some personal issues for a period of time. After some recent internal discussions, it has been determined and agreed with Lachie that the best course of action is for him to spend some time away from the Club while he addresses his personal issues.

“We will continue to support Lachie during his leave of absence, with his personal wellbeing the sole focus for everyone in the immediate term.

“During this period of absence from the football program Lachie will not play at either AFL or VFL level.

“We expect that Lachie’s privacy will be respected during this period.”

Beveridge was angry at former Fox Footy reporter Morris when he reported before round one that Hunter would not be selected to play for the team. He was then named but withdrawn and Beveridge called Morris a “gutter journalist”.

AFL backs umpire crackdown as players confused

The AFL is backing in its crackdown on umpire abuse and believes there are more free kicks for dissent that were missed during the Easter weekend.

The state of umpiring has become the hot topic from round five as players and fans were often confused by interpretations.

Free kicks and 50-metre penalties are now paid for the slightest hint of demonstrative behaviour shown towards umpires, including players throwing their arms up in frustration.

But the AFL’s football operations manager Brad Scott said it was vital the league showed leadership on umpire abuse for all levels of football.

The AFL estimates it is 6000 umpires short at community level.

Six controversial free kicks and 50-metre penalties for abuse during round-five have been ticked off by the AFL.

Dissent incidents involving Carlton’s George Hewett, Gold Coast’s Jy Farrar and St Kilda’s Jack Higgins were deemed worthy of free-kicks but were missed by the umpires.

“We did have some inconsistency on the weekend, we got some wrong and we got some right,” Scott said.

“There were a total of 389 free kicks paid over last week’s round and we had six free kicks paid for umpire dissent and six clearly missed for dissent.

“We have unanimous support from all the club, and the leaders at clubs; in fact they want us to pay these free kicks.

“Our umpires missed some, we acknowledge that, and we’ll work on that.

“Our message to players is that when an umpire pays a free kick, accept it and move on and our message to umpires is we encourage you to continue to pay free kicks or 50-metre penalties where players have shown dissent.

“We will stay the course on this and acknowledge there have been instances across this season where we have missed free kicks for dissent.

“We commend players overall for the shift in behaviour this season and we are already seeing that reflected at the community level.”

Scott admits there is bound to be inconsistency in the adjudication of dissent decisions depending on who the official is.

“There may be some umpires who have a thicker skin than others and decide ‘I’m okay with that’ but it’s not up to the umpires to make the rules, it’s up to the umpires to adjudicate the rules,” he said.

“I think anyone who goes to a community football game of football and sees 12, 13, 14-year-old boys and girls umpiring and copping abuse on the field from players and supporters alike is not acceptable.”

Brisbane Lions forward Lincoln McCarthy admitted it was taking players time to adjust to the crackdown.

“It is not lost on us that the elite level has a unique leadership role in the community, and with that role comes responsibility,” McCarthy said on Tuesday.

“Takes a while to break out of habits. 

“We’ve just got to keep reminding each other and keep self-reflecting on how we’re behaving out there.”

Former leading AFL umpire Darren Goldspink believes the league’s crackdown on disrespect shown to officials is not having the desired affect.

“To me it seems like it’s having exactly the opposite effect at the moment,” Goldspink told SEN.

“It’s just putting more pressure on umpires.

“Abuse is an individual thing … it’s a very grey area, and we need to make it black and white, but having said that, I don’t think what they’re trying to do within the AFL is helping at the grassroots level.”

Players confused

It comes as Hawthorn gun James Sicily has admitted he has no idea what constitutes umpire disrespect after his AFL side copped a dubious 50-metre penalty in their upset win against Geelong.

Cats forward Tom Hawkins went flying in the third quarter of the MCG clash after a minor push from his Hawks opponent, with his effort to possibly draw attention from the AFL’s match review officer for staging.

Hawks pair Tom Mitchell and Jack Gunston were seen talking to an umpire after the decision and raising their arms as they protested, resulting in a 50-metre penalty being awarded.

“You both looked at the (big) screen (for the replay),” the umpire was heard saying on TV coverage. “And then you had your arms out … it’s umpire respect, OK?”

Sicily said he was not clear what the umpires’ interpretation was regarding interactions with players and what represents disrespect.

“It’s a difficult one, I feel like if it’s not demonstrative … sometimes it’s just a reflex, it’s been that way for so long,” he told Fox Footy.

“The rule is there to implement what they’re trying to implement, we’ve got to try and respect it as much as possible.

“But it’s definitely hard when games get as tight as they do, emotions are high.”

It followed an umpire, in Thursday night’s clash between the Brisbane Lions and Collingwood, being heard telling the hosts’ defender Harris Andrews “arms out is 50” after he gave away a 50-metre penalty for raising his arms protesting a decision.

A number of other players weren’t penalised for similar actions throughout Round 5.

Melbourne great Garry Lyon labelled the umpiring a disgrace and said AFL football operations boss Brad Scott must sort it out immediately.

“What we’ve seen over the course of the weekend suggests there’s a crisis that Brad Scott’s got to sort out,” Lyon told Fox Footy.

“He sorts it out (on Monday) morning otherwise it’s a disgrace … right now it’s embarrassing our professional competition is run like this.”

But Geelong coach Chris Scott said direction from umpires should be clear at this point of the season, although he admitted players might struggle to adhere.

“It’s incumbent on us to say to the players, ‘this is the way the game’s being interpreted, your opinion does not matter, my opinion does not matter, let’s just be as good as we can at understanding it’,” Scott said.

“It’s been communicated over a long period of time really clearly and we understand it.

“Does that mean we won’t transgress? I suspect we will because it’s a highly emotional game.”

Scott said the stricter interpretation had TV viewers in mind, particularly young footballers.

“The important thing for the players is dissent is going to be interpreted as what can be seen on the TV screen,” he told Fox Footy.

“You can say something that’s really nice, if it looks like it’s aggressive, demonstrative is the word they like, then you make yourself vulnerable.

“This is a pattern that happens every time there’s a rule tweak, there’s an overcorrection.”

Papley out, Buddy in doubt for Swans

Sydney will miss livewire Tom Papley for at least one more match but legendary forward Lance Franklin is touch-and-go for Monday’s AFL clash with Hawthorn.

Papley hasn’t played yet this season but trained on Tuesday and is expected to return in the following match against the Brisbane Lions, with the in-form Swans opting against rushing him back from his hamstring injury.

“Tom Papley trained (on Tuesday) and trained flat-out, did the whole session and then some extra conditioning on top,” Sydney coach John Longmire told reporters.

“(He) pulled up really well, trained really well, we expect him to have another session on Friday.

“He definitely won’t be playing on Monday because we want to just get another week of training under his belt … he’ll be playing hopefully next week is the plan.”

Meanwhile, Franklin missed the weekend’s 63-point thrashing of West Coast with a broken finger, but Longmire did not rule the 35-year-old out of the coming game.

He did, though, point to the form of Logan McDonald and Hayden McLean as encouragement they could handle the absence of the star veteran.

“We’ll see how the week progresses, we’ll make that decision when we’ve got all the information in front of us and that won’t happen until the end of the week,” Longmire said of Franklin.

“His finger is getting better all the time … we’ll just let that pan out.

Lance Franklin Swans

Lance Franklin (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

“A couple of the young key forwards came in and did a good job for us, and that’s important, with Franklin and Papley and (Sam) Wicks (out), that’s half of our starting six of our forward group.”

Despite missing some key personnel, the Swans are 4-1 this season with the sublime form of Isaac Heeney making him one of the AFL’s hottest players.

Heeney is averaging 20 disposals and seven tackles per game, while he’s also slotted 11 goals in four games.

“We’ve always known Isaac’s a quality player who works really hard on his game and when you’ve got those two combinations, generally you’re going to play pretty well most weeks,” Longmire said.

“He’s been terribly hampered by injuries over the last few years … he’s very mentally strong to be able to fight through with injuries.

“His body’s been feeling well, feeling really good, that’s a real key.”

More woes for the Bombers

After a disappointing loss against the Dockers the Essendon Bombers have more headaches with Jake Stringer reportedly ruled out of the traditional Anzac Day game against Collingwood.

Tom Browne from Channel 7 said that Stringer’s hamstring is the issue while Zach Merrett is also expected to be ruled out of the game which would leave the Bombers’ midfield exposed.

While Essendon do have some backups on their list including Kaine Baldwin and James Stewart, the side really needs its leadership group to step up.

If the players don’t already feel the blowtorch they will in the coming days as the Melbourne media scrutiny intensifies.

“There are a couple of players that are going to be the future of our club, but we’ve got to make sure they’re ready to go,” coach Ben Rutten said.

“We also need to make sure our players that are playing are up for it and continuing to improve.”

“The best thing we can do is knuckle down, review this game hard, really have some good reflections about what we did well but also understand why we got what we got in the second half. That’s going to be key to our improvement in the short-term and in the long-term.”

Cameron dodges question about staying at GWS

Giants coach Leon Cameron did not commit to the club when asked whether he wanted to stick around next year.

Interviewed on AFL 360 on Monday night, he addressed the question without saying he was certain he would be around in 2023 at the club after a decade at the helm.

The Giants have stumbled to just one win from the first five rounds and need to turn their season around over the next month against the Crows, Cats, Blues and Eagles.

“It’s a really good question. I mean I’ve been at the club for 10 years and been involved for 34 years [in football], which is a long time. I think the sensible decision at the end of the year is to make that,” he said.

“The club has got to be happy with the next coach, whether that’s me or whoever that may be. You know, it’s an appointment for the next three of our four years.

“I love coaching at the moment, but I’m not silly either. I know we’re it sits. We’re 1-4, I’m a realist. I need to coach really, really well over the 17 games. If I can do that, which I’m really confident I can, then we have a really good decision to make at the end of the year.”

Port boss backs Hinkley

Port Adelaide’s faith in coach Ken Hinkley isn’t wavering despite the club’s worst start to an AFL season, chief executive Matthew Richardson says.

Richardson says the club’s powerbrokers retain confidence in Hinkley, whose side slipped to 0-5 with another loss on Sunday.

Asked if he could guarantee Hinkley’s job for the year, Richardson replied: “I just don’t think there is any point in dealing with hypotheticals.

“Our focus has got to be we are playing West Coast this weekend … we have just got to stay really focused on the things we can control.

“We’re five games in and we haven’t had the start that we want.

“But we have got great people and we will back them in to turn it around and that has to start this weekend.”

Hinkley, in his 10th season at Port, is under the blowtorch – which doesn’t surprise Richardson.

“We understand it,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we haven’t started the season as we would have expected.

“We’re really well led. We have got great faith in our people and we’re going to back them in to turn it around.

“From what I see, we have got a group who are really investing in being really connected, they’re really focused, they are supporting each other.”

Port Adelaide host West Coast on Saturday and skipper Tom Jonas said the Anzac Day round and its theme of selflessness and sacrifice would “narrow the focus” of players.

“There is a lot of outside noise but we have still got great belief in our group and connection,” Jonas said.

“The results are an outcome of sometimes when we have probably departed a little bit from what our values are as a team.”

Jonas noted a spate of injuries to key players and some sloppy skills had also let the Power down this season.

“I am really confident in this group still – our ability, our connection, our belief in one another … we are all sticking together,” he said.

But he labelled Sunday’s first half against Carlton, when Port slipped 50 points down, as “absolutely unacceptable”.

“It’s about being committed to working harder than the opposition, doing things for your teammates rather than doing things for yourself,” he said.

“We have spent a lot of energy in that space in the last couple of years.

“And that work and that foundation we have built doesn’t just disappear overnight so we will go back to the well on that.”

(With AAP)

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