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SA Health to investigate coronavirus travel exemption granted to AFL players’ parents

South Australia’s public health chief says an external review will investigate how and why 11 Victorian-based parents of Port Adelaide AFL players were granted exemptions to coronavirus travel restrictions while other families are being denied.

Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier yesterday revealed 11 relatives of Power players had been approved by SA Health to enter the state, ahead of the club’s qualifying final against Geelong at Adelaide Oval next week.

After finding out about the “absolute mistake”, Dr Spurrier revoked the exemption for six of them, while the other five — who have already arrived — will be able to continue their 14-day hotel quarantine.

The South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) this morning shed more light on the situation, saying the head of Events SA had played an initial role in the process but was not responsible for the decision.

Premier Steven Marshall apologised for the “error of judgement” by an SA Health employee.

“I’m very sorry this has occurred,” he said.

“It was an inappropriate approval — I acknowledge that, the chief public health officer acknowledges that.”

The bungle coincides with the lifting of travel restrictions from New South Wales into SA, with people in NSW now allowed to cross the border into SA without having to do 14 days’ quarantine.

It has also prompted a backlash from others still stranded in Victoria — where restrictions still apply — who have accused authorities of double standards.

Angela Mead, who resides in the Victorian town of Echuca, said she has not been able to hug her 10-year-old daughter, who lives in Adelaide with her father, since May.

“There’s a lot of people like me people in worse situations,” she said.

A woman wearing a face mask sits on the side of a highway with a girl behind her
Angela Mead (right) visiting her daughter Alannah across the South Australian-Victorian border at the start of the month.(Supplied)

She said it was unfair she could not enter South Australia but Power relatives, along with cross-border sports players, could enter the state.

Ms Mead has put in another application to visit Adelaide, where her father is terminally ill, but it is yet to go before the SA Health panel that decides on exemptions.

Dr Spurrier said someone from outside SA Health would review departmental processes around border exemptions to prevent the Port Adelaide situation being repeated.

“We’re very keen to review this,” she told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning.

Events SA boss spoke to families

The SATC this morning released a statement confirming Events SA executive director Hitaf Rasheed, who previously worked at the Port Adelaide Football Club, helped the players’ families contact SA Health.

“She helped to initially connect a representative of the families to SA Health and then left the decision-making process to the relevant health officials to work through,” a spokesperson said.

“SATC doesn’t have any say in how SA Health view applications or approvals.”

Dr Spurrier said it was her understanding that the person from SA Health who gave the exemption “had no connection whatsoever” with the Port Adelaide Football Club, including as a member or a fan.

SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier addresses the media.
Nicola Spurrier reveals the Port exemptions yesterday.(ABC News)

“This was a mistake — it was a poor judgement,” she said.

She said disciplinary action was a matter for the department’s chief executive, Chris McGowan, not her.

She will meet with him today, and will rejoin the committee that decides on exemptions.

The Premier said the findings of the investigation would be released publicly.

“There is no suggestion whatsoever there has been any interference or personal gain from this,” Mr Marshall said.

Premier has questions to answer: Labor

Earlier this morning, Labor health spokesman Chris Picton said Mr Marshall needed to answer questions about any involvement from the Government in the matter.

“There are so many people that haven’t been able to see dying loved ones, who haven’t been able to go to funerals — how was it that people within the Marshall Government viewed football games and watching a football game as more important than those situations?” he said.

Port Adelaide general manager of football Chris Davies said neither the club nor Ms Rasheed had done anything wrong.

“Let’s be really clear: SA Health were the ones who received the exemption request and SA Health were the ones who made the decision on the exemption,” Mr Davies said.

“So, at the end of the day, I think it’s a decision and a discussion that will continue to be had but it needs to be had with the right authority.”

Two new cases of COVID-19 were reported in South Australia yesterday.

A woman and a man tested positive after arriving in Adelaide from overseas on Sunday — but a child who was travelling with them has so far not tested positive.

They bring the state’s total number of COVID-19 cases since the virus was first detected in SA to 468.

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Ben Brown up for AFL trade as North Melbourne continues to reshape list for 2021 season

Ben Brown’s career at North Melbourne appears to be coming to an end after the AFL club confirmed they are willing to trade the full-forward.

The off-contract Brown endured a tough 2020 campaign with loss of form and injuries resulting in just eight goals in nine matches.

Brown, 27, is a four-times leading goalkicker for the Kangaroos with 287 majors in 130 matches.

He kicked a career-high 64 goals in the 2019 season.

“It’s not a decision we’ve made lightly as Ben has been a tremendous part of our club since 2014,” Kangaroos football general manager Brady Rawlings said in a club statement.

The Kangaroos won just one of their last 15 matches this season to finish ahead of only bottom-placed Adelaide on the ladder.

Both teams recorded three wins for the season, with the Kangaroos avoiding the wooden spoon because of a superior percentage to the Crows.

The Kangaroos already announced that 11 other players, including Majak Daw, would not be offered new contracts.

Brown’s exit would be the most high-profile as coach Rhyce Shaw reshapes his list.

Rawlings said he and Shaw spoke to Brown, who is not a free agent, last Friday to discuss the club’s position.

“It was a very honest discussion,” he said.

“We will work with Ben and his management to secure a mutually beneficial outcome.”

Rawlings said that potentially trading Brown would be “difficult” for some fans to understand but decisions were being made in the best interests of the club.

“We have a clear plan and pathway to lead this club back to finals as quickly as possible,” he said.


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AFL footballers’ families given ‘inappropriate’ exemptions to enter SA despite coronavirus restrictions

Six Victorian family members of Port Adelaide footballers have had exemptions to travel to South Australia revoked after an intervention by the state’s Chief Public Health Officer, who said the decision was an “absolute mistake”.

Professor Nicola Spurrier said the six individuals were among a total of 11 relatives of Power players who had been granted exemptions by SA Health to travel into the state.

“They were family members of the Port Adelaide Football Club,” she said.

“I’m not privy to the reasons for them wanting to come here, but my presumption would be they’d be wanting to see their [relative] play in the finals.”

Five of the players’ family members have already arrived and are in hotel quarantine, and will be allowed to stay — but Professor Spurrier overruled a decision to grant the remaining six exemptions.

She said special treatment should be reserved for people visiting dying relatives or attending funerals.

“Our health exemptions really should be people with compelling compassionate reasons … in this instance, that is not the case,” she said.

The families in hotel quarantine will be allowed to travel around SA after their 14 days’ isolation is complete and will not be sent back to Victoria.

“These family members did this in good faith, they were given an exemption inappropriately … there’s no reason to be punishing those family members,” she said.

SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier addresses the media.
Professor Spurrier said there was no risk to the public.(ABC News)

A Port Adelaide Football Club spokesperson said the club had “no involvement in the process of players’ parents seeking exemptions”.

“Those decisions are a matter for SA Health,” the spokesperson said.

Professor Spurrier explained that two committees deal with travel requests — the exemption and appeals committee — and that the staff member responsible would be counselled.

She said she found out about the decision this afternoon.

“I will be stepping back on to the exemption committee because I think it’s important I have that oversight,” she said.

SA Health said the travel exemption process would continue to be refined, but there was no risk to the public.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said he was also disappointed in the exemptions given.

“In some ways that might have been to the detriment of our relationship with the AFL but the health and safety of South Australians is our paramount consideration.

“I can’t believe that this decision was in the bounds of discretion but it’s up to the chief executive to consider all the circumstances and what action might need to be taken.”

Two new coronavirus cases confirmed

Professor Spurrier has also apologised for what she described as SA’s first “serious breach” of hotel quarantine, associated with the state’s first new coronavirus cases for several weeks.

The two new cases of COVID-19 announced today.

A woman and a man tested positive after arriving in Adelaide from overseas on Sunday — but a child who was travelling with them has so far not tested positive.

Professor Spurrier said she was not “too concerned” about the cases in terms of public health, because they had been staying in hotel quarantine.

A medical professional dressed in protective clothing leans through the window of a car to test people inside.
Two new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in SA.(ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

But a hotel security guard helping test members of the family for COVID-19 was “too close” to where the procedure was being performed, and will now also have to go into quarantine.

The two newly-diagnosed cases of COVID-19 are the only known active cases in South Australia.

The couple are both aged in their twenties and flew through Doha with their young child — but Professor Spurrier did not know from which country.

They bring the state’s total number of COVID-19 cases since the virus was first detected in SA to 468.

More than 2,000 people in SA got tested for the disease yesterday, bringing the total number of tests performed in the state to just over 450,000.

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The AFL grand final will be on a slippery Gabba night, but are the Queensland conditions actually making a difference?

If you’re the sort of person who is taking time out of your day to read this, then you’ve probably watched a fair bit of footy in 2020.

And if you’ve watched a fair bit of footy in 2020, you’ve almost certainly seen quite a few games played in south-east Queensland, several of them at night, under the floodlights.

And if you tick all of those boxes, at some point during at least one of those games at the Gabba or Carrara Stadium, you’ve probably noticed the added humidity in that part of the world leads to more dewy conditions, which makes the ball more slippery and harder for players to handle.

The awarding of the grand final to Brisbane, and the subsequent decision to play it at night for the first time, has brought concerns about this phenomenon to the forefront, with the likes of Kane Cornes and Mark Ricciuto warning of a low-scoring and aesthetically inferior decider.

A back view of a modern flood light at a sports stadium on a dark night.
The Gabba lights will be shining on the 2020 AFL grand final.(ABC News: Christopher Gillette)

To the naked eye, those fears are justified.

Watching some of these evening Queensland games has been a painful experience, as otherwise skilful players seem to turn to fumbling and scrambling messes with a ball that resembles an oversized cake of yellow soap.

But is the dewy, humid, slippery conditions actually changing the game? Are they really making for lower-scoring, more congested, and less skilful games? Or is the eye test deceiving us?

Is the dew really making any difference?

To find out, let’s look back over every game played since round 10. By that point, all teams were hubbing it up either in Queensland or sporadically in WA, and the games were coming thick and fast.

We’ve split the data into two categories: night games at the Gabba and Carrara, and day games at those grounds plus all games in Adelaide and Perth.

For the sake of the exercise, games in Cairns and Darwin have been left out, as their locations make their conditions somewhat of an outlier.

It may be an imperfect system, but here’s what it showed us.

The first thing to note is there is no real discernible difference in scoring.

Low scores have been on the agenda all year, and while there are plenty of pretty logical reasons for why scoring has been so down in 2020, it seems venue hasn’t really been a factor.

Likewise, accuracy in front of goal is basically the same across the board, suggesting a slippery ball is not to blame for those wayward set shots.

Here’s where things start to get interesting.

Conventional wisdom suggests a slippery game is a more congested game, with fewer marks around the ground, and much more of a scrap around the contest.

But the numbers suggest the difference in average marks per game is negligible — and if anything, there have been more marks taken after dark in Queensland — while tackle numbers are clearly lower in the dew than elsewhere.

However, the split between contested and uncontested possessions suggests a couple of things, the first being that there are generally slightly more possessions overall away from south-east Queensland.

But there is also a (admittedly very minor) boost in uncontested possessions when the conditions are more dry.

Reading between the lines a little, it seems the slippery ball isn’t making an impact on marking or scoring, but it may be stopping teams getting the ball moving in uncontested situations.

Crucially, this is backed up by the respective kick-to-handball ratios.

The evidence seems to imply that kicking is the order of the day when the sun sets in Queensland, while a more run-and-gun, handball-happy style of play is better suited to drier conditions. Makes sense.

On the whole though, there is very little difference in overall disposal efficiency between the two sets of data; the conditions may be changing the way teams are playing, but they aren’t really making them any more or less skilled.

So which teams will benefit?

The first, and probably most important, thing to note here is there is very little difference between the two sets of data, and very little statistical difference between games played at night in Queensland and those not.

That is the main takeaway here, that concerns about the conditions negatively affecting the game appear to be overblown.

But if we’re working under the assumption that a night Gabba grand final — and however many night Gabba finals are played before that — slightly suits teams that are less reliant on handball and are better at winning contested balls and marking, on paper the big winner is Geelong.

The Cats are the best kick-mark team in the league this year, and are the third best team for contested possessions.

Gryan Miers and Sam Simpson high-ten each other as a North Melbourne opponent walks past
Geelong have handled Queensland conditions well and look primed for a finals run.(AAP; Darren England)

Geelong is a low-handball team and does its scoring using methodical transition from defence and from stoppages — something else that is particularly useful at the Gabba.

The Cats have already played plenty of those slippery Queensland night games this season, and it’s no surprise they’ve won almost all of them.

Port Adelaide is another that could stand to benefit, mostly off the back of its contested game, which is league-leading this season.

And when it comes to avoiding the handball, no team is more kick-conscious than the Lions who average the fewest handballs per game of any team in the league. Local knowledge of the conditions is clearly guiding their game style.

All of which is to say any advantages received by teams due to a bit of dew will be minimal.

The frustrating optics haven’t translated to remarkably different games and, regardless of conditions, the best team is almost certainly going to be the one left standing at the end.

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AFL releases schedule for week one of the finals, with games at Adelaide Oval, the Gabba and Perth Stadium

The AFL finals series will begin in nine days with a Thursday night blockbuster between Port Adelaide and Geelong at Adelaide Oval.

The league confirmed on Tuesday the Power’s reward for finishing top of the ladder for the first time since 2004 would be a home qualifying final against the Cats.

The game, scheduled to start at 7:40pm AEST on October 1, will begin the finals series after a week’s break.

A day later, the Brisbane Lions, who finished second on the ladder behind the Power for the third time in AFL history, will host Richmond at the Gabba.

The game will be a rematch of last year’s qualifying final, in which the Tigers downed the Lions by 47 points at the same venue.

The loser of the match will face the winner of the elimination final between St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs.


That final will be a twilight game at the Gabba on Saturday, October 3.

AFL general manager of clubs and broadcasting, Travis Auld, said the scheduling for that game had been decided after consideration of St Kilda’s request to play at the Gabba since the Saints had finished higher (sixth) on the ladder than the Bulldogs (seventh).

Because of border restrictions in Western Australia, Collingwood will have to quarantine in Perth for seven days before their elimination final against the West Coast Eagles on Saturday night, October 3.


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Port Adelaide beats Collingwood by 16 points at the Gabba to secure AFL minor premiership

Port Adelaide has clinched the minor premiership with a solid win over Collingwood at the Gabba in the final game of the home and away season.

The Power have led the ladder for the entire season, but the pressure was on with Brisbane poised to finish top if Ken Hinkley’s men slipped up.

Despite being challenged hard early, Port Adelaide steadied in the third quarter to take control before running out winners by 9.7 (61) to 7.3 (45).

This is the fourth time the Power have taken the minor premiership — on two of those occasions (2002 and 2004), they finished first ahead of the Lions in second.

The last time they finished top, they went on to win the flag — against Brisbane.

They are also just the third team in the AFL era to sit on top of the ladder the entire way through the home-and-away season, following West Coast in 1991 and Essendon in 2000.


The Power will now host Geelong at Adelaide Oval in a qualifying final, while Collingwood’s loss means they face the daunting task of a trip to Perth to take on West Coast in an elimination final.

Tom Rockliff’s 30-disposal, 10-clearance display for Port Adelaide was a highlight at the Gabba.

Magpies captain Scott Pendlebury starred in his club record-breaking 314th appearance, gathering 23 disposals and seven clearances, while Taylor Adams and Adam Treloar also won plenty of the ball.

But it was Rockliff who fought longest and hardest as Port prevailed in a grinding contest that was largely controlled by the competition’s best two defences.

The Power kicked the opening two goals and Collingwood the next two in a tight first term that was a pointer towards what was to come.


Pendlebury had a big early impact with four clearances in the first quarter but neither side was prepared to open up the field with bold ball movement, instead opting for patient build-up play.

There were four lead changes in the second term and two in the third before Daniel Motlop’s brilliant shot on the outside of his right boot.

Another goal to Sam Powell-Pepper, set up by Robbie Gray, gave Port a 17-point lead.

Big moments went against Collingwood before three-quarter time as Jamie Elliott’s indecision and a free kick against Mason Cox cost them certain goals that could have reduced the margin.

Port dominated centre clearances after half-time and although Collingwood controlled field position in the final term, the Magpies couldn’t close the gap on the scoreboard.


Dan Houston (24 disposals, 12 marks) was superb for the Power as Ollie Wines, Travis Boak and Rockliff got to work at the contest.

Gray (25 disposals, seven clearances) showed flashes of brilliance and the defence led by Tom Jonas and Trent Mackenzie held firm.

Motlop and Brad Ebert finished with two goals each in a game where the big forwards struggled to assert themselves.

Brody Mihocek (two) was Collingwood’s only multiple goal kicker.


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Brisbane Lions will be keen to avoid Richmond in week one of AFL finals

In a normal AFL season, excitement would be reaching fever pitch, we would just be entering grand final week and tonight the league’s best and fairest player would be bestowed with the time-honoured Brownlow Medal.

This year has been anything but normal.

This morning I watched the closing stages of the US Open golf, a tournament typically played in June, and while the footy is also in the final round, many shots are still to be taken.

To continue the golfing analogy — apologies, I haven’t been able to play for a while — Brisbane has finished the 18 and holds the clubhouse lead.

The Lions are on top of the ladder and within touching distance of their first McCelland Trophy.

But there is a major threat still on the course.

In the final group is Port Adelaide, a club needing four at the last to pinch the honour as the table-topping side at the completion of the regular season, as irregular as it has been.

It’s an oddity that Brisbane won three consecutive premierships from 2001 to 2003 without ever finishing atop the AFL ladder, and while the McClelland Trophy is a poor cousin to the premiership cup, every Lion will be roaring for Collingwood when the Pies face the Power tonight.

A Richmond Tigers AFL player runs as he gives a high five to a teammate after kicking a goal against Adelaide.
The Lions will hope to avoid Dustin Martin and the Tigers in the opening week of the finals.(AAP: David Mariuz)

As much as a piece of club history carries significant weight, the chance to avoid the reigning premier Richmond in the opening week of the finals will likely be far more important for Brisbane and its prospects.

The Tigers have won their past 15 games against the Lions and also boast an imposing record at the qualifying final venue, the Gabba, with 11 consecutive wins there.

Last season, Brisbane finished second and entered the finals full of confidence only to be dismantled by the Tigers on its home ground in week one.

A week later, a season of promise ended in despair with a nail-biting loss to the Giants.

Brisbane will be better for the experience but would still benefit from avoiding the Tigers first up.

If Collingwood can upset Port Adelaide tonight, the Lions will instead play the Cats, who were underwhelming and only scraped past 16th-placed Sydney on Sunday. The Cats have also had the Lions’ measure in recent years but not to the same extent.

Saints rising under Ratten

Brett Ratten’s cheeks could quite feasibly still be aching. The Saints coach had every reason to smile after a 52-point thrashing of Greater Western Sydney secured St Kilda a return to finals football for the first time since 2011.

The post-match scenes were wonderful. Ratten, full of pride and passion and grinning from pointy ear to ear, must have bearhugged just about every player. If all of St Kilda’s record 47,000 members could have been accommodated in the team song they would have been.

Ratten’s influence on St Kilda has been pronounced, and the connection formed with his players is obvious. There is a mutual respect and a deep affection.

As much as this was a powerful moment for St Kilda, I was also struck by the significance of the achievement for a coach that has overcome serious hardship both in his career and in life.

The St Kilda AFL coach smiles as he looks to his right as he walks on the field at the Gabba.
Brett Ratten has plenty of reasons to smile after guiding the Saints to the finals.(AAP: Darren England)

As a player, Ratten was a revered and highly decorated premiership star with Carlton.

He would later coach the club with a considerable degree of success before being unceremoniously dumped when a more highly credentialled option in Mick Malthouse became available.

In 2015, Ratten suffered unspeakable tragedy when his son Cooper was killed in a car crash.

It was moving to see the joy on his face and the immense sense of satisfaction after Friday night’s win.

“The support I’ve had from the AFL community and the fans has been unbelievable,” Ratten told The Lead on ABC Grandstand.

“I wanted to get the chance to coach again and to get the chance at the Saints, I’m very fortunate.

“Not too many people get a second chance after they’ve been sacked and the Saints showed faith in me, and to give me this — it’s something I want to take with both hands and hopefully we can get that success but we’ve only scratched the surface as a football club.”

More than a few Carlton fans would be looking at the success of Ratten at St Kilda and wondering what might have been.

After 13 rounds, the Blues had looked a genuine finals chance but they capitulated, losing four of their last five matches.

First-year coach David Teague probably just gets a pass mark for a seven-win and nine-loss season, but he openly spoke about the side’s belief it could play finals and the Blues fell well short, finishing 12th on the ladder.

Teague inherited a list that had been completely overhauled, with a lot of the heavy lifting done and salary cap space to lure talented players like Jack Martin.

Carlton will again be an active participant in trade discussions this off-season, and with Charlie Curnow set to return, nothing short of finals in 2021 will be deemed as acceptable.

Kangaroos go back to the drawing board

North Melbourne, by its own admission, would view the 2020 season as anything but acceptable.

The Roos won their first two games but only one of their remaining 15, narrowly avoiding the indignity of claiming the wooden spoon.

When Rhyce Shaw took over as coach midway through last season, North Melbourne produced some encouraging results, with full forward Ben Brown a potent force with 64 goals for the year.

Much has changed.

As 2020 rolled on, the Kangaroos became non-competitive. A staggering 11 players — including Majak Daw, Jasper Pittard and Jamie Macmillan — were axed from the squad on Friday and I’m reliably informed Brown has been told to look for opportunities elsewhere.

A North Melbourne AFL player watches the ball in front of him while surrounded by a teammate and an Adelaide opponent.
Majak Daw (centre) was among 11 players let go by the Kangaroos.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

It’s another example of the hard-nosed approach Shaw and his head of football Brady Rawlings are employing in a bid to make their mark on a team once defined by its uncompromising approach.

Despite having three years to run on his contract, I’d be surprised if Jared Polec, who was dropped for multiple games in 2020, remained at the club next season even if it means the Kangaroos have to pay part of his salary.

Polec was guilty of playing without a team-first approach, which has long been a cardinal sin at North Melbourne.

Tough decisions already made, it’s likely there are more to come, and a tough road undoubtedly lies ahead.

But in establishing a proud history, nothing has ever come easily at Arden Street and the Kangas probably would not have it any other way.

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Harley Bennell suspended for four AFL matches, Melbourne fined for coronavirus protocol breach

The AFL has suspended Melbourne’s Harley Bennell for four matches and fined the Demons $50,000 after he breached the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

Bennell was found to have breached the protocols after leaving the Demons’ high-performance centre in Twin Waters on the Sunshine Coast.

The AFL, who investigated the matter, said he “attempted to visit another residence without approval and visiting an unapproved premises”.

The league said Bennell would leave the Demons’ base in Queensland “as soon as possible”.

Bennell’s suspension means he will miss the first four matches of the 2021 season.

The AFL did not suspend any part of the Demons’ fine, as two of the club’s players had committed protocol breaches earlier in the season.

The $50,000 amount will be included in Melbourne’s 2021 soft cap.

“This is a selfish act by Harley, and a clear breach of the AFL’s protocols,” Demons chief executive Gary Pert said in a statement.

“He has made a very poor decision, which is incredibly disappointing. He has not only put himself, his teammates and the competition at risk, but he has failed to live up to the values of the Melbourne Football Club.

“On behalf of the Melbourne Football Club, I sincerely apologise to the AFL and the Queensland Government for the embarrassment and harm that this incident has caused.

“Harley knew the rules. He understands the extent of his actions and is incredibly remorseful for his behaviour. He has made a terrible mistake and has been punished accordingly.

“As a club, we accept the punishment and fines handed down as a result of this breach.”

AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon said there was no excuse for Bennell breaching the league’s protocols.

“Harley knew the rules and could have put his club and the competition at risk on the eve of a finals campaign,” he said.

The AFL’s punishment of Bennell comes just over two weeks after Richmond’s Sydney Stack and Callum Coleman-Jones were sent home from Queensland and suspended for a protocol breach on the Gold Coast.

The league’s Victorian teams are based in Queensland hubs to enable the competition to continue during the pandemic, but they must abide by a set of COVID-19 protocols to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

Bennell, who previously played for Fremantle, appeared in five matches for the Demons this season.

He was not part of the club’s travelling squad that beat Essendon in Carrara on the Gold Coast on Saturday.

The Demons’ season is now over after they slipped out of the top eight following the Western Bulldogs’ win over the Dockers in Cairns on Sunday night.

The Bulldogs replaced the Demons in the top eight as a result of their victory.

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Geelong clinches AFL top-four spot with win over Sydney Swans ahead of finals

Geelong has survived a massive scare to lock in an AFL top-four spot, as Gary Ablett showed flashes of brilliance on his return to action in a six-point win over lowly Sydney.

The injury-ravaged Swans stunned the Cats early with four of the first five goals and led until the four-minute mark of the final term.

But class eventually told as Patrick Dangerfield, Sam Menegola, Brandon Parfitt and Tom Stewart played key roles in the Cats’ crucial 10.9 (69) to 9.9 (63) victory in Carrara.

It took a desperate late smother from Mark Blicavs on James Rowbottom to secure the result on the final play of the match.

The win gave Geelong fourth place on the ladder and a double chance for the finals, starting with a qualifying showdown with either Brisbane or Port Adelaide.

Dangerfield was moved permanently forward after half-time and kicked three crucial late goals to help drag the Cats over the line.

Menegola, Parfitt and Stewart were busy throughout but Geelong’s midfield struggled to gain ascendancy against a Swans on-ball division led by experienced campaigners Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker.

Sydney got the early jump, registering their highest first-quarter score of the season (5.4), but lost James Bell to concussion after a head clash with Jordan Dawson.

Their nine-point lead at quarter-time would have been greater if not for Tom Papley’s miss from the top of the square running into an open goal.

Ablett’s first two touches were goal assists and he kicked one himself before quarter-time to help stem the tide, but he was one of few the Cats to have much of an impact to that point.

The free-flowing contest became a grind during a goalless second term.

Dangerfield’s move forward helped change the match and he put the Cats in front with the first goal of the final quarter.

He added another moments later and could have had a fourth from a free kick, but advantage was paid when Parfitt kicked a goal off the deck.

The Cats endured nervous moments in the dying stages.

Papley cut the margin back to 11 points and Justin McInerney trimmed it to six with 19 seconds remaining before Blicavs’s late heroics.

Chief goal sneak Papley was an ever-present threat in attack but was wasteful in kicking 2.5.

Parfitt and Coleman Medal leader Tom Hawkins finished with two goals each for Geelong.

Hawks finish on winning note

Retiring Hawthorn stalwart Paul Puopolo has made a stylish three-goal farewell in a 51-point demolition of Gold Coast at Adelaide Oval.

Puopolo booted two of Hawthorn’s seven first-term goals in the 17.6 (108) to 8.9 (57) victory, which meant the Hawks finished with a 5-12 win-loss record for the season.

The Hawks are likely to finish 15th on the ladder, with the Suns expected to be in 14th place. If the Sydney Swans upset Geelong on Sunday afternoon they will leapfrog both the Suns and Hawks.

In what was a dead rubber between two non-finalists, the Hawks exploded from the blocks in the opening quarter to lead 7.1 (43) to 1.1 (7) at the first change.

A Hawthorn AFL player holds up his right hand in the shape of a fist as he celebrates a goal against Gold Coast.
Hawks retiree Paul Puopolo made sure he went out on a winning note against the Suns.(AAP: David Mariuz)

Aside from Puopolo, fellow veteran Jack Gunston kicked two goals in the opening term before finishing with four for the match.

Another departing Hawk, three-time premiership player Ben Stratton, collected 13 disposals and kicked a last-quarter goal, which was just the second in his 202-match career.

Tom Mitchell (33 disposals), James Cousins (24), Liam Shiels (25) and ex-Sun Jaeger O’Meara (25) were influential for the Hawks throughout the contest.

Gold Coast’s co-captain David Swallow (27 disposals) and Noah Anderson (25) were the team’s leading ball winners.

Suns forward Alex Sexton booted three majors, while debutant Jy Farrar scored a goal with his first kick in the AFL ranks.


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Western Bulldogs clinch AFL finals berth with win over Fremantle as Melbourne misses out

The Western Bulldogs have made sure they will be playing in the AFL finals following a 30-point win over Fremantle in Cairns.

The Bulldogs’ 11.8 (74) to 6.8 (44) victory on Sunday night saw Luke Beveridge’s side snap up the last remaining finals berth at the expense of Melbourne.

The Demons had given themselves hope of making the finals when they beat the Bombers on the Gold Coast on Saturday to provisionally move into the top eight prior to the Bulldogs-Dockers clash.

The Bulldogs finished the home-and-away season on 36 points, four ahead of the Demons.

More to come.


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