AFL umpires have found an unlikely ally in Luke Beveridge with the Western Bulldogs coach calling on the league to give its whistleblowers a fighting chance on holding-the-ball decisions.
The rule and its application have come under scrutiny in recent days after St Kilda coach Brett Ratten lamented his side earning just three free kicks from 86 tackles against Geelong.
Melbourne’s Simon Goodwin and Port Adelaide’s Ken Hinkley declared their preference for a tighter application, as appeared in play two days later when 21 free kicks were paid for holding-the-ball in the Demons’ win over Carlton.
Last August, a frustrated Beveridge said he had lost clarity around the umpires’ holding-the-ball interpretation and had subsequently stopped coaching his players on the subject.
Now he wants the rule to be simplified to allow umpires to find some consistency.
“It became blurry after 2016 when a couple of clubs whinged about us and they tried to pay more free kicks,” Beveridge said on Tuesday.
“By Round 3 (of 2017) they knew it wasn’t working, so they tried to go back to what it was.
“It’s just an example of flinching on the run.
“Let’s just get back to prior opportunity and incorrect disposal, and give the umpires a chance.”
Beveridge said holding-the-ball will always be difficult to adjudicate.
“The game has probably never been quicker, so sometimes it’s hard to work out whether a player has had prior opportunity,” Beveridge said.
“They pick it up, there’s a split second, they get tackled and if they deem there was no prior, they get dispossessed and it’s play on.
“It’s just a really fine line, so I get why the umpires find it hard in certain circumstances.
“But just keep it simple for them and give them every chance.”
Both Goodwin and Hinkley felt the St Kilda-Geelong game had been under-officiated in terms of rewarding the tackler.
“If the rule was a little clearer, I think for everyone and it was simpler, I think we’d get a better outcome,” Hinkley told AFL 360.
“I’m with (Goodwin) – I’m not against holding-the-ball being umpired a little bit more than it has been currently.”