Ben Cunnington of the Kangaroos (right) punches Bernie Vince of the Demons.
Ben Cunnington of the Kangaroos (right) punches Bernie Vince of the Demons. JULIAN SMITH

AFL to change MRP rules in bid to stamp out punching

THE AFL will tinker with its MRP system in coming weeks to ensure players guilty of punching an opponent will face suspension - with changes to be implemented this season.

Tired of seeing players punching opponents and not being appropriately punished, AFL football operations boss Simon Lethlean said the league would take steps in coming days in a bid to rid itself of punching.

The move comes after Sunday's fiery clash at the MCG which saw players - most notably North's Ben Cunnington - fined after striking opponents in the stomach.

Lethlean said changes to the MRP grading table would be worked on in coming days and, unusually, changes would be made mid-season.

"Clearly the deterrent of fines is not stopping on-field punching in various forms and we want to stamp that out and that's up to me now to give the MRP the equipment to be able to classify for more forceful conduct or for more intent and we'll work out how we can do that in the next few days so it's enforceable at tribunal," Lethlean said on SEN radio on Tuesday morning.

"It's unusual but we're going to (make the change midyear). We don't want punching to continue. We're unequivocal about that and we'll make that really clear to the players and clubs and make a change.

"It's a tough role (being on the MRP panel) but they'll make decisions now going forward based on a harsher method and a harsher deterrent and I think that will hopefully stamp things out."

Melbourne co-captain Nathan Jones supported the idea, saying while he was "not too worried" about most punching incidents, making a statement and suspending players who currently receive fines would bring immediate change.

"If that's what we are going to try and do, get it out of the game which is a completely fair call in my eyes, I think if you put a suspension on it I guarantee you're going to limit players doing it, I don't think there's any doubt about that," Jones said on RSN 927.

On Monday AFL chief Gillon McLachlan said he didn't like punching in footy, citing the bad look and hinted the changes would come.

The MRP chose not to suspend Cunnington for his hit on Melbourne's Bernie Vince, which was deemed a test case in the face of growing unease over punching but resulted in a $1000 fine.

MRP member Jimmy Bartel called on the league to add a special category for "non-football acts" such as punches to make the system more "black and white".

Bartel had called on the league to introduce greater powers for the five-man panel, saying penalties for a punch should be "black and white".

The panel determined Cunnington's gut punch on Vince - that forced the Demon from the field and left him dry-retching - had been intentional but low-impact, which brought the penalty down from a ban to fine.

McLachlan, speaking before the finding, said punching has no place on the field.

"I can talk in broad terms and be unequivocal - I don't like punching in our game," he said.

"I don't feel it's the look we want and to the extent that our rules don't provide for it (appropriate sanctions), we'll look to change them.

News Corp Australia

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