Two AFL clubs, now positioned firmly in the Top 8 and which will contest finals football next week, are choosing to rest key players for the final round of the home and away season. But is this a form of ‘tanking’?
In the past it has been the issue of ‘tanking’ by teams finishing at the bottom of the ladder and trying to make the best of their situation for the future, out of an impending player draft.
But this year, it's the top teams who are "resting" players ahead of the finals push.
Fremantle is resting eleven players for its match against ninth-placed Port Adelaide to be played in Adelaide, and North Melbourne is resting nine players for what some may see as a very important match against fellow finalists, Richmond.
While Fremantle’s win or loss has no effect on its position, having already taken out the minor premiership honours, North Melbourne’s situation is the opposite.
The Kangaroos, sitting eighth, will play fellow Melbourne-based club Richmond (sitting in sixth) in the popular Friday night slot.
There is the justifiable expectation of a sell-out crowd and the possibility North Melbourne could put itself in the position of a home final should it win this match.
So why rest nine of your key players?
Coach Brad Scott says he is not accepting a loss scenario due to this action and argues he is fielding a strong team.
“It’s insulting to think we’re try to lose,” he stated.
Supporters will be geared up to watch a great contest in a fight for psychological supremacy, if not for the best ladder position, leading into the finals. They have a right to see the best players their team has in its ranks – that’s what they pay their memberships for – so is the club disrespecting its supporters?
On the other hand, fans could take the view they trust the coach and it’s the bigger picture that should be the focus.
Fremantle fans will have made costly travel plans based on the expectation of a strong Round 23 clash in Adelaide and supporters will understandably now feel let down, if not disrespected, by the club.
Ultimately the game of football under the AFL is a supporter-based one as well as a commercial enterprise.
In a mixture of reactions this week from media and fans alike, the integrity of the game seems to be at the heart of the debate.