Petrie unfairly punished in Lake scuffle

Worthy of attention: Friday’s altercation between Brian Lake and Drew Petrie. Photo: Channel Seven, Getty Images

Worthy of attention: Friday’s altercation between Brian Lake and Drew Petrie. Photo: Channel Seven, Getty Images


So it's serious enough to send to the tribunal, unlike the two other players charged with headlocks in the preceding five weeks, but not serious enough to spare the victim from punishment as he tried desperately to free himself?

After the match review panel deemed Brian Lake's prolonged choke on Drew Petrie too serious for a $4000 fine - like those levied on GWS's Jeremy Cameron and Richmond's Ty Vickery - the question is why Petrie was punished as well.

Page 13 of the league's tribunal and match review panel guide lists three clauses that allow a player to escape scrutiny, at the panel's discretion, for an act that would normally trigger punishment: "a reportable offence was committed in response to provocation", "a reportable offence was committed in self-defence", "there are multiple reportable offences that arise from the same event or course of conduct".

The third does not apply for Petrie; the first, possibly; the second, based on the vision broadcast, absolutely.

The trigger for the scuffle was innocuous, a contest for the ball on the boundary line in which Petrie shaded his opponent. More likely it was because a minute earlier Lake had given away a petulant 50-metre penalty that turned a tough goalscoring opportunity for the Kangaroos' joint vice-captain into a certainty that allowed his team to regain  the lead.

Unless the panel has  continuous footage proving Petrie was the aggressor, the obvious conclusion as Lake lay on top of him and pinned his throat to the turf was that Petrie was simply doing anything he could to free himself from a vulnerable situation.

What should Petrie have done otherwise? As he explained on The Sunday Footy Show, once he realised his resistance to Lake, which included grabbing at his opponent's face, was futile, he let go completely. Rather than taking that as a cue to end the scuffle, Lake continued to apply pressure.

Based on that, if Petrie had have submitted immediately it would have achieved nothing.

Players targeted by opponents must not be given free rein to defend themselves by whatever means they choose, but this was not an instance of a player taking a chance to whack an opponent in the comfort he would escape punishment.

You need only watch the footage of Petrie writhing on the turf to suspect his face-grabbing reaction was much more instinctive than it was calculating.

Based on the classification of the charge - negligent conduct, low impact, high contact - the only way to downgrade it is for the Kangaroos to dispute it completely. Coach Brad Scott announced on Monday night they would.

Petrie risks missing this weekend's match against St Kilda in Hobart. Had North accepted the reprimand he would have been saddled with 93.75 points for the next year, which make him a certainty to be suspended for even the most minor strike, trip or high bump.

Few, if any, like to identify as friends of the tribunal or match review panel - especially this year. But North's decision to fight the penalty could generate goodwill that may rival what was seen during Jack Viney's ultimately successful bid to avoid penalty for a collision that broke the jaw of an opponent.

That the AFL has installed Joel Bowden as the public voice of the match review panel in place of his boss Mark Fraser this year is no surprise based on the former Richmond player's comparative - to the media-shy chairman's - ease at explaining its decisions.

While the rationale for charging Petrie must be top of the agenda when Bowden's weekly video interview with the AFL website is recorded on Tuesday, so too must be an explanation of why fines were appropriate for Jeremy Cameron and Ty Vickery but not for Lake (admittedly the vast majority of pundits, including former players, have called for the Hawk to be suspended). Hopefully it is not simply because the Cameron and Vickery breaches, especially the former, were committed in lower-profile Saturday matches, while Lake's happened in the unparalleled glare of Friday-night football.

A bad look for football is a bad look for football, irrespective of the popularity of its timeslot.

This story Petrie unfairly punished in Lake scuffle first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.