Cometti: Comfortably my worst yet ...

It seems a couple of events from Friday night's clash between Sydney and Essendon are sure to grab the sporting headlines this week.

The first involves a collision between Umpire Troy Pannell and Nick Malceski, the other a head-on clash between Michael Hurley and Dan Hannebery.

And despite the best of intentions, the AFL now finds itself in an unenviable situation.

Its failure to stay the course over collisions between players and umpires is almost the elephant on the oval.

Sure, front on high contact (of the Hurley-Hannebery variety) is far more common and because of that, far more important. But try telling that to Todd Curley.

His collision with umpire Keiron Nicholls in 2001 played a considerable part in the end of Curley's AFL career.

He got four weeks and a loud message was sent. The same message was sent again several times in the next couple of seasons but to all intent and purposes it's fallen silent ever since.

If the AFL really wants to change on-field behaviour it can't claim something to be "a priority" one day and of little interest the next.

So while it might be difficult for fans and even tribunal members to fully understand what's going on with current rule changes designed to make our game safer, spare a thought for the players trying to adjust for round ten and beyond.

Do you imagine gnarled veterans like Dustin Fletcher, Jonathan Brown or Adam Goodes are finding this an easy time?

Like old dogs, they're trying to learn new tricks, while the players coming up behind them need to know today's priorities, unlike contact with umpires, are in place for the long haul.

Because unless something has changed, Nick Malceski is as guilty as Todd Curley was all those years ago. Were both incidents accidents? Yes. But wasn't that the point? Be more careful.

Of course, front on high contact is far more complex.

Players over the ball are starting to think they're safer this season and of course therein lies the greatest danger.

Ten days ago I described Grant Birchall as looking "comfortable" with this head down over a ball as Buddy Franklin was coming quickly from the other direction, while last Friday night Hurley had considerably less time to feel much of anything.

Feeling "comfortable" in a period of transition might be the most uncomfortable position there is!

As a result the AFL, and more particularly its tribunal, is facing a massive test of it's vision for the future, its rules and its resolve.

The West Australian

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