WEST Coast forward Willie Rioli is free to face North Melbourne on Sunday after overturning his rough conduct charge at the Tribunal on Tuesday night.
Rioli was charged with careless conduct after he collided with Gold Coast star Matt Rowell in a marking contest in Sunday's loss at Optus Stadium, with the Match Review Officer grading the incident as medium impact and high contact.
Rioli made his comeback in Sunday's loss to Gold Coast after serving a two-year ban for doping violations, but his bump on Rowell (watch the incident in the player below) originally earned him a one-game suspension.
The Eagles challenged all aspects of the charge, arguing it was a "legitimate marking attempt" and Rioli had not breached his duty of care to Rowell or made high contact in the collision.
Rioli's advocate David Grace QC used the example of Nick Riewoldt's iconic 2004 mark (check it out in the player below), who fearlessly ran with the flight of the ball and collided with a group of players when he took his mark against Sydney at the SCG.
He said if Riewoldt had not taken the mark and collided with an opposition player, would that have meant the Saints legend was guilty of rough conduct?
Grace also said there was "daylight" between Rowell's chin and Rioli's hips at the point of impact, and insisted the collision was unavoidable in the circumstances. He said the Tribunal needed to consider the message a suspension to Rioli would send to players attempting marks where there was an element of risk.
In overturning the charge, the jury of David Neitz, Shane Wakelin and Tribunal chair Jeff Gleeson QC declared the small forward had not ceased to contest the ball in the collision and his actions were reasonable.
"Incidents such as this where the question revolves around whether and how the player is contesting the ball are not easy," Gleeson QC said.
"Rioli had eyes for the ball as he entered the contest (and) there is no doubt he braced for contact a split second before contact.
"But when doing so he did not cease to contest the ball. The way in which he did so was not unreasonable."
The jury did find he had made high contact with Rowell, but that proved irrelevant after the rough conduct charge was dismissed.
The Tribunal deliberated for more than 30 minutes before deciding in Rioli's favour.
As part of his evidence, Rioli said he was not aware that Rowell was approaching the contest until the final moment, and he had turned his body in an effort to reduce the impact of the collision.
He disputed the assertion from AFL counsel Nick Pane QC that he had breached his duty of care to Rowell.
"I believe my duty was to commit to the contest and help my team at any cost. It's unfortunate it escalated like this, but my intention was to win the ball," Rioli said.
Pane argued that Rowell's ability to stay on the ground after the incident and take part in the next centre bounce was the result of "good fortune, not good management", and Rioli should have considered the midfielder's vulnerability in the contest.
He highlighted amendments to the MRO and Tribunal system in 2022 that mean the potential to cause serious injury must be factored into the determination of impact for rough conduct charges when high contact is made.
- with AAP