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SANFL overhauls rules in wake of '19th man' controversy

Football

SANFL teams found to be fielding more than 18 players mid-game will no longer face the automatic loss of their score, after the league overhauled the rules surrounding such a breach in the wake of North Adelaide’s preliminary final controversy.

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The Roosters went on to win the Grand Final after a SANFL tribunal opted not to overturn the preliminary final result – when North came back to run over Woodville West Torrens, but were later found to have fielded an extra man for more than three-and-a-half minutes at the start of the final term.

Instead, North were hit with a fine and a loss of four 2019 premiership points – after the breach was not confirmed until after the match was over.

Today, the league moved to cauterise the controversy, changing the rules governing the penalty for fielding a 19th man.

The changes were also endorsed by the AFL Commission at a meeting yesterday, with the code’s governing body changing its Laws of the Game accordingly.

The capacity to call for a head count will no longer fall to just the captain of the opposing team, but will be extended to include the vice-captain and runner.

If the umpire determines following a head count that a team has more than 18 players on the field, the team in breach will no longer lose any points scored in the match, but instead suffer only a free kick and 50-metre penalty against it – “to be aligned with the AFL & AFLW competitions”.  The matter can then be reported to the SANFL “for post-match consideration”.

Such a review may now be instigated “either by a report from a field umpire where a head count has occurred in-game”, or at the request of a club, the league or a match official within 24 hours of the final siren.

“If a breach is established, SANFL can determine the penalty – by way of a fine, reversal of the match result or any other sanction as deemed appropriate,” the new rule holds.

“SANFL management will have the authority to deal with any minor indiscretion [but] any breach that may have had an impact on the result of the match will be referred to the SANFL Tribunal.”

The league will also implement new game-day procedures to “remove the potential for error by club officials, particularly to ensure that a match or quarter does not commence until all interchange players have been accounted for”.

SANFL General Manager of Football Adam Kelly said in a statement that the changes were deemed necessary “following the events of the SANFL Preliminary Final in which North Adelaide Football Club was found guilty of having 19 players on the field for a period of 3 minutes and 39 seconds at the commencement of the final quarter”.

“After our experience in dealing with the 19th player incident in the preliminary final and a full review of procedures, SANFL believes that the changes approved by the SA Football Commission provide a more reasonable in-game penalty and appropriately broaden the powers to investigate post-match, along with greater flexibility of sanctions to deal with breaches on a circumstantial basis,” Kelly said.

“The appointment of an additional match day official will also ensure compliance with all regulations and procedures, including that a match does not commence until interchange players from each team have been accounted for.”

North went on to beat Norwood in the decider after a SANFL tribunal inquiry by retired Supreme Court judge Michael David QC imposed a $10,000 fine – the maximum amount under league rules – and docked the club four premiership points – the equivalent of two wins – next season.

However, David declared his belief that the most appropriate outcome would have been to replay the game – a ruling he did not have the power to make.

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