St Kilda will be without Jimmy Webster for nearly two months of the 2024 season after the Saints defender was suspended for seven matches by the AFL Tribunal for rough conduct against North Melbourne’s Jy Simpkin.

Webster was sent straight to the AFL Tribunal for his bump on Kangaroos co-captain Simpkin in the first quarter of their practice match at Moorabbin Oval on Sunday.

The AFL sought an eight-week ban, while Webster’s counsel argued this was excessive and disproportionate.

The tribunal landed with a sanction more than double the minimum three matches for an incident referred directly, with chair Jeff Gleeson, KC, defending the length of the ban saying there was an urgency to do what was necessary to change player behaviour.

Simpkin was kicking to the goal square from just short of the 50m arc on the left side of the ground. After completing his kick he was hit by Webster, who leapt off the ground and collected Simpkin’s head with a hip-and-shoulder bump.

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The incident was graded as careless conduct, severe impact and high contact.

Webster pleaded guilty to the charge and classification.

“I’m really sorry about what happened on Sunday. It’s something I’m not proud of — I’ve let a lot of people down,” he said in evidence to the Tribunal.

“My main concern is for Jy to get back to playing footy and I really hope he’s OK. I understand how bad concussions are and how much we want to see them stamped out of the game.”

He said he had “no excuse” for his decision to leave the ground.

Webster, who has apologised personally to Simpkin, said he was “happy to cop the backlash” from angry fans on social media, but said his family had also been targeted, describing it as “obviously pretty shit”.

Andrew Woods for the AFL argued that the hit was at the “higher end of careless (conduct)”.

He pointed to Webster’s turning of his body, the tucking in of his left arm and shoulder, and the leaving of the ground, leading to a “significant movement” of Simpkin’s head.

“You need to think about what Webster knew and could’ve been expected to know about Simpkin’s vulnerability … it really can’t be said that a player in Simpkin’s position should be reasonably expecting that type of contact, or doing anything about it.”

Gleeson put to the AFL counsel the fact that last week the league had argued for a four-week ban on Port Adelaide’s Sam Powell-Pepper for careless conduct against Adelaide’s Mark Keane, while this week they were asking for eight, implying that Webster’s actions were “twice as bad”.

“That’s right, there’s no resiling from that,” Woods said.

He agreed that the factors which made it worse were the degree of culpability, the approach to a different situation (one-on-one rather than a group of players), the level of momentum and speed, and the decision to leave the ground.

Evolving community standards require higher sanction, says AFL

Woods pointed to the Tribunal guidelines which stated it was open to exercise discretion to impose a different classification or sanction than previous years, “having regard to (among other things) evolving community standards and an increased focus on reducing instances of avoidable forceful high contact and preventing injuries (including concussions)”.

He said that previous incidents (albeit those graded intentional) in previous years to attract eight week bans, such as West Coast’s Andrew Gaff striking Fremantle’s Andrew Brayshaw in 2018, might now after the passing of several years attract much higher sanctions.

“Things have moved on since then,” he said.

Anderson said that while community standards had evolved, sanctions needed to be fair and proportionate.

A Fremantle AFL player walks off with a blood-stained towel held to his face, as a trainer puts his arm around him.

The last time an AFL player was given an eight-week ban was in 2018, for Andrew Gaff’s strike on Fremantle’s Andrew Brayshaw which broke the young Docker’s jaw.(Getty Images / AFL Media: Will Russell)

“These are standards that have evolved over 20 years. It might be that what would have been three (weeks) is now four, but to say that what was three is now double or more than double (is wrong).

The chair said the incident was a “classic case of avoidable head high contact”.

Comparing the Webster case to last week’s, Gleeson said: “Powell-Pepper’s rough conduct was serious. This was worse, significantly worse.”

Gleeson rejected Anderson’s argument that the evolution of community standards had to be slow, saying the need to avoid head-high contact had never been more acute.

“The need to avoid head-high impact, the need to minimise the risk of concussion has never been more acute.

“There is an urgency about the need to continue to do what is reasonably necessary to attempt to change what is admittedly rare instances of player behaviour.”

The Tribunal did not go so far as to double Powell-Pepper’s suspension, but came close.

Webster will be missing for a string of matches against teams who made finals in 2023, including the opening round game against Geelong this Saturday, plus games against Collingwood, Port Adelaide and GWS.

He will be eligible for selection in St Kilda’s round eight game against North Melbourne at Docklands on May 4.

Webster again apologised to Simpkin following the hearing.

“I went into the hearing completely open to accepting whatever consequence the Tribunal delivered,” Webster said.

“I wish to reiterate my remorse and again apologise to Jy for my actions. I will take this time on the sidelines to reflect on my actions and work hard to keep it out of my game.” 

Simpkin to miss round one

Before Tuesday’s hearing, North Melbourne put out a statement confirming that Simpkin had been ruled out of the club’s round one game against GWS.

“Jy’s health and well-being is our number one priority,” general manager of football Todd Viney said.

“Given Jy’s concussion history, our medical team will take a conservative approach to his management and recovery as per the AFL’s Concussion Protocols.

“Jy came into the club today, he’s doing well and is in good spirits but his official return-to-play timeline is unclear at this point as it depends on his progress.”

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