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Five questions for the MRP on Cotchin clash

Nathan Schmook  September 24, 2017 12:39 PM

Shiel sore after this contest with Cotchin Dylan Shiel benched and out of the game
AFL 2017 Second Preliminary Final - Richmond v GWS

Trent Cotchin's Grand Final prospects are up in the air

RICHMOND captain Trent Cotchin will dominate the first 48 hours of Grand Final week as the Tigers sweat on his availability to face Adelaide. Cotchin's collision with Greater Western Sydney opponent Dylan Shiel has divided experts, so how will the Match Review Panel make sense of it? These are the questions that need to be asked when the Panel sits on Monday.   

1. Is this rough conduct or forceful front-on contact?

The difference between rough conduct and forceful front-on contact is critical. To be charged with rough conduct the MRP has to find that Cotchin elected to bump. If his actions aren't viewed as a bump then they can rule out rough conduct. To charge a player with forceful front-on contact, however, a player does not need to have elected to bump. They just need to have made forceful front-on contact to a player who has his head over the ball. In this case, Shiel has his head over the ball and forceful front-on contact is the most likely charge.

2. Was Cotchin contesting the ball?

This is the question that should ultimately clear Cotchin. If the MRP decides he was contesting the ball and had no realistic alternative way to contest the ball, he will be cleared of both rough conduct and forceful front-on contact. This is the question the Panel members will spend most of their time debating on Monday. It is easy to say Cotchin was contesting the ball, because he ultimately won it. But there is the possibility the MRP will say he was first clearing a path to win the ball. What he is doing with his arms will be interesting. His right arm is tucked, an action that suggests Shiel is his focus, but his left arm is attempting to collect the ball. That should be enough to give the midfielder the benefit of the doubt.

3. Does Cotchin breach his duty of care to Shiel?

The argument to suspend Cotchin will centre on his duty of care to Shiel, who suffered late onset concussion and was unable to play the last three quarters of the preliminary final. It's a heavy price to pay for sticking your head over the footy. Shiel was first to the ball and, as a courageous ball-winner, he left himself exposed and vulnerable. In that situation the onus is on Cotchin to approach the contest with a reasonable duty of care to his opponent. Cotchin cannons into the contest low and at ferocious speed. In a game of millimeters, with the ball in dispute, that should be considered reasonable. 

Dylan Shiel on his hands and knees after the clash with Trent Cotchin. Picture: AFL Photos

4. Are there precedents?

The first incident that comes to mind is a collision between Sydney's Dan Hannebery and Essendon's Michael Hurley in 2014. Hannebery is one of the best in the game at protecting himself while winning a disputed ball. In this contest, he turned his body while Hurley came at the ball front on with his head down, coming off second best. Hannebery was cleared because the MRP deemed he had no alternative way to contest the ball.  

5. Does Cotchin's bad record impact any penalty?

Cotchin's two fines for low-level offences this season will be irrelevant when the MRP sits on Monday. Given Shiel was concussed, the most lenient grading Cotchin could hope for if charged would be careless conduct with medium impact to the head. That would carry a two-match suspension, down to one with an early guilty plea, before any bad record is factored in. It would take a grading of low impact for Cotchin to be fined, then bringing his record into play and elevating the penalty to a one-match suspension for a third strike.