Greater Western Sydney star Toby Greene will miss the first five matches of the 2022 season after the league’s appeals board upheld an AFL challenge against the tribunal’s initial three-match suspension for making intentional contact with umpire Matt Stevic.
In increasing Greene’s suspension to six matches, the board on Thursday dismissed Greene’s claim that he had been trying to avoid Stevic at three-quarter time of the Giants’ elimination final win over Sydney in late August, with board chairman Murray Kellam saying in his verdict that Greene’s argument had been implausible.
The ‘bump’ incident: Toby Greene and umpire Matt Stevic.
Specifically, the board upheld the AFL appeal on the grounds that the three-match ban had been “manifestly inadequate”.
It was the board’s view that there was a “need to send a strong message” to footballers at all levels that such conduct was unacceptable and that there was a “need for the penalty imposed to adequately denounce the conduct”.
“Respect for umpires is at the heart of the integrity of the game,” said Kellam. He then outlined that there was an element of “specific deterrence” in the decision, saying that “the player implausibly maintained that he was trying to avoid contact with the umpire”.
Having already served one match of his suspension in the Giants’ semi-final loss to Geelong last month, Greene now stands to be unavailable for almost a quarter of next season.
The dual All-Australian has now been suspended for a total of 14 matches across his 10-year AFL career, as well as incurring more than $29,000 in fines.
Jeff Gleeson QC, acting for the AFL, had been pushing for a minimum six-match ban.
“The common thread that runs through direct referrals is the seriousness of the offence,” Gleeson said.
“This would be a different case if the jury had found [Greene’s conduct was] no more than it was disrespectful.”
Gleeson described Greene’s act as “brazen…an act of contempt”, saying that a three-match ban was clearly too light. “The football community is not just displeased with this, it’s shocked,” Gleeson said.
“The look is terrible….If anything, Greene leans in [to Stevic], Three weeks is not enough.”
Ben Ihle QC, acting for Greene, cited the initial hearing, saying that “the contact was agreed by all to be minor”.
Ihle added that umpire Stevic had told the tribunal that he didn’t find the language or challenge used by Greene to be inappropriate.
Ihle also argued that the AFL had moved the goal posts of the case, suggesting that the league argued a case that wasn’t initially put before the tribunal, and therefore not within the permitted bounds of the appeal. Gleeson disputed this point.
Greene’s fresh unavailability for such a large chunk of the season could cloud his prospects of being named Giants captain for 2022. Greene had filled in at times in 2021 when skipper Stephen Coniglio was unavailable, and with Coniglio having struggled for the past two seasons, the Giants have not guaranteed he will lead the team again next year. Having earlier this year re-signed for eight seasons, Josh Kelly looms as another option for the full-time captaincy.
“As we said at the time, as a club we maintain that umpires are sacrosanct. We understand the important role they play in our game and they are to be respected at all times,” Giants football chief Jason McCartney said on Thursday.
“Toby apologised for his actions. He is remorseful for the incident that occurred and understands the responsibility he has to umpires specifically, and the game more broadly.
“We accept the suspension and consider the matter finalised.”
The AFL’s decision to appeal came almost immediately after the initial decision more than a month ago. The appeal had, however, been deferred until after the season. The appeal was also heard via video link, with Greene tuning in to learn his fate.
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