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Put boot into the slide
Put boot into the slide

Any time in the past when we had coaches' conferences, the AFL always told us there would be no mid-season rule changes.

But what the AFL should be saying is that they are not embarrassed to make changes at any time if those decisions mean protecting all players - young, senior and the stars of the game - and even saving their careers.

So let's get to the point. I hate sliding, detest it. I think it's a deplorable act because you don't need to do it.

The AFL's decision last week to address the growing practice of dangerous sliding was not tantamount to changing the rules. But in emphasising a new interpretation, it was almost the same thing.

In reality, it was applying a band-aid instead of conducting much-needed surgery. In short, the AFL did not go far enough on a problem that has been getting worse over the past 18 months.

If I was at the AFL and making the decisions, I would go the absolute extra yard and make it illegal to slide into any contest with any part of your body.

We've just finished round seven and we've just worked out something a lot of people knew many years ago - sliding in not only warrants a free kick but should also be deemed reckless and reportable.

The only way to eradicate it is with severe penalties.

The reasons for concern over sliding are valid because it can cause major injuries, possibly career-ending. We'll just have to wait and see how Sydney's Gary Rohan comes back from the broken leg he suffered in round four.

We've seen a lot of players come back successfully from injuries caused by sliding, but there have been others who have come back not quite the same as they were. So I can understand the panic.

When I was coaching Footscray, one of the players with the lightest feet you could ever have was Doug Hawkins. He would tap dance around you and you couldn't touch him inside a phone booth.

He was probably the best-balanced player I've ever seen and one of the best players I've ever seen. But on one wet day at the MCG in 1986, a Collingwood player slid in, hit Doug flush on the knee and he ruptured his ACL.

Doug was a champion, but I reckon that moment stopped him from being the absolute superstar he should have been. The way he was playing to that point, he could have been anything and what happened to him put the first hint in my mind that sliding was wrong and not what we wanted.

Just to dive in on a ball and have your 90-100kg body cannon into people who are stationary on the ground, you can do massive damage. The art of going into a contest with feet and knees first has increased recently, which can be a lot worse. It is not a brave act.

I reckon there were hints of it last year and it is a bad practice. In many respects it shows a player's weaknesses.

He is either too slow or can't get to the contest before his opponent and virtually uses the tactic as a weapon, even though I am sure the player does not mean to cause any permanent damage.

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of habit-forming going on.

At Collingwood the players knew I detested sliding into the contest probably more than anything else. We didn't even talk about the damage you could do, we talked about having players standing on their feet.

It was all about staying low and keeping your feet. You just get in lower than your opponent, but stay on your feet.

One of the great players, Robbie Wiley, and I used to have a lot of banter. But of all the things I remember him saying to me about playing, the one he used to harp on about was staying on your feet. You only had to look at the way he played his football to see how it worked for him.

We all say it, but some do it more than others and none of the great footballers go to ground. Watch Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury, Gary Ablett and Chris Judd. The only time they go to ground is when they get scragged down.

The AFL Players' Association has become a very strong and very vocal advocate for its members. My way of thinking is that this issue has to be driven by them as much as the AFL.

Surely they don't want their members hurting fellow members unnecessarily. It's a duty of care for a fellow footballer and sliding shows a lack of care because it's reckless.

Sliding is frowned upon in most other sports and that's why I can't understand why the AFLPA doesn't seem to have had a stronger voice on it. Their power is such that a statement on this issue from them will have a far greater impact on the player group than if it came from anywhere else.

If we're going to get this rule right, it's got to be that the player who slides in with any part of his body - whether it be shoulder, trunk, knees or feet - is viewed by both the AFL's match review panel and tribunal system as reckless. The points system which takes into account the impact and where the contact is made should then be normally applied.

At the moment, it appears the different rule-making bodies are not on the same page. You've got the left hand saying one thing and the right hand saying another. That's what the AFL should have addressed without fear.

But the communication lines appear to remain broken. You can't just address the issue with the player group because if they keep doing it the precedent has already been set by the tribunal, through the Lindsay Thomas and Greg Broughton cases this year, although Adam Goodes did get a one-match ban for sliding into Port Adelaide's Jacob Surjan in round three.

The decision-making on this issue has to be universal and it has to constitute total change.

I know sometimes there can be frustration and backlash. But it is better to get it right now and have a little bit of backlash than get it wrong and find that we are losing players to injury because of sliding on a week-to-week basis.

Even if you save one player from a broken leg, you've done the right thing.

One of the best rule changes ever was introducing the centre circle for ruckmen. I remember the backlash from some ruckmen at the time because they thought it took away their right to run at the centre bounce. Brisbane's Jamie Charman was one. He had a run-up like Jeff Thomson and would charge smack-bang into his opponent. He hated the rule until he did his knee.

Jeff White, Luke Darcy, Peter Everitt, Corey McKernan, Mark Porter, Matthew Allan, Peter Street, David Loats, Robert Campbell, Beau McDonald, Justin Koschitzke, Michael Gardiner, Hamish McIntosh and Josh Fraser are among many other ruckmen who have suffered PCL injuries because of leg clashes.

Making change to improve something is common in all facets of our great game. In 2007, when our team at Collingwood was going nowhere, I sat with David Buttifant and Guy McKenna and we decided to increase rotations.

We did it at about round 10 or 11 and it had a massive bearing on our results.

There is no embarrassment in changing your structure or your game plan mid-season because you don't want to get to the end of the year and find out you've had a bad one.

It is better to make a rule to prevent an incident rather than because of one ... or many.

Any rule that protects a player's health or longevity in the game is to be admired, not criticised.