The spectre of AFL clubs throwing games
was raised earlier this year when Terry Wallace suggested an incentive system –
$100,000 to the winner of each game – might stop clubs taking to the field with
anything but the four premiership points in mind.

Of course, it was just an idea and easy to
leave in the realm of bar-room chatter. Until last weekend, when a disappointed
(and disappointing) crowd watched two teams with nothing left to gain from 2006
go through the motions at Docklands stadium. Kangaroos versus Port Adelaide, a
crowd of 14,815, a lamentable contest, and a problem for the AFL.

An official explanation for the limpness of
the game came when Kangaroos coach Dean Laidley revealed captain Adam Simpson
and Shannon Grant needed surgery and could miss the rest of the season. The Agereports
today that Laidley had
already outlined details and timings for the 2007 pre-season last
Wednesday, so how could the Roos be expected to play like there was no
tomorrow when
that’s all the coach’s box was thinking about?

With four home and away rounds left to
play, how does the AFL sell the idea of football as worthwhile entertainment when the best
the game has to offer are already preparing for 2007? Sydney coach Paul Roos is
the latest to add his voice to the issue,
saying that he sees a strong need to convince lower ladder clubs to keep
trying.

That would suggest some of the game’s most
basic ideals have been eroded. “Giving your all for the jumper” and “playing to
win” are on life-support. The spirit of Ted Whitten really is a thing of the
past, replaced by “list management” and weeks off thanks to “general soreness”.

As it stands, teams are juggling all of
this in their usual manner, playing the system to their own best advantage.
What the AFL needs to decide is whether or not this late season lethargy is in
the best interests of the game. Or, to put it in language league bosses will
understand, will the television networks put a dollar value on four or five dud
rounds of football that whimper each home and away season to a close?

Peter Fray

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