The AFL Players Association have condemned West Coast for slugging seven players with $5000 fines after they partied at a Perth nightclub.
Pre-season recruits Hugh Dixon and Patrick Naish were identified as the final two Hip-E Club attendees in the aftermath of the round seven loss to Richmond, breaking a team directive.
Jake Waterman, Josh Rotham, Jackson Nelson, Campbell Chesser, Rhett Bazzo, Dixon and Naish all dodged club-sanctioned suspensions over the incident because of the Eagles’ decimated playing stocks.
Half of the $5000 fines for each player will be suspended.
AFLPA General Manager of Player & Stakeholder Relations Brett Murphy criticized the club’s decision to fine the group.
“While we empathize with the challenges currently facing the WA-based teams, we do not support rules prohibiting players from entering venues, nor the sanctions imposed,” Murphy said.
“Over the past three seasons, AFL players have gone above and beyond to enable the competition to continue despite the challenges caused by the pandemic.
“Among other things, players have been required to relocate, at short notice and on several occasions, and have lived by restrictions which have gone beyond those imposed on other members of society. However, with the community now seeking to live with COVID-19, the industry has made the decision to move away from these rules and to allow players to live balanced lives.
“We have been in discussions with the club and players in recent days and will continue these.”
Eagles chief executive Trevor Nisbett said the punishment had been handed down after the players “broke specific club and player guidelines”.
“We will continue to educate our players and those who transgressed will now need to regain the trust and respect of their teammates as well as everyone else at the club,” he said.
Naish is one of only two West Coast Eagles to have played every game this season, since being picked up as a pre-season supplementary selection.
The former Tiger had 17 disposals and two clearances in the loss to Brisbane on Saturday night.
It’s understood Dixon has previously contracted COVID.
The 23-year-old was omitted in favor of recognizing ruckman Callum Jamieson to face Brisbane after Luke Strnadica entered the AFL’s health and safety protocols.
It paved the way for South Fremantle star Jake Florenca to make his debut, West Coast working closely with the AFL to maintain team balance despite the Eagles being able to field a full side without the need to draw from their COVID contingency list.
Dixon traveled to Brisbane with his teammates but wasn’t selected as medical sub, that role falling to Claremont captain and WAFL top-up Declan Mountford.
It came after West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett admitted earlier on Monday the players would likely dodge suspension due to the club’s decimated playing stocks.
“In normal circumstances, some of the guys might face a suspension of a week or so, or be unavailable for selection, but as it stands we aren’t in that position where we can afford to do that and that is a problem in its own right,” Nisbett told SEN WA.
Chesser, the club’s first selection in last year’s National Draft, is currently on the inactive list after injuring his foot during a pre-season game against Fremantle.
He returned to the club late last month having spent time at home in Victoria.
Bazzo was taken in the same draft, after a premiership-winning season at full-back for Swan Districts in the colts.
Waterman was revealed as being involved during the Eagles’ loss to the Lions in which he had 17 disposals but kicked just one behind.
The consequences of the incident could play out in the longer term however, with Nisbett telling ABC Radio on Saturday the players involved had “compromised their position” and that their futures at the club could be in jeopardy.
Nisbett also defended the club’s handling of the incident, after West Coast premiership player Will Schofield and Australian cricket legend Mitchell Johnson — writing exclusively for The West Australian — went into bat for the players.
“We have to do what we believe is correct — the players know the circumstances,” he said.
“Both Mitch and Schoey are coming from a player’s point of view and yes they haven’t broken the law and they haven’t done things that are going to hurt someone directly but they have certainly hurt their coach, their playing group, the club and the brand damage they have done to themselves is probably as important as anything else.
“We didn’t have to name players, the players were in the public arena so it wasn’t the case of the club having to come out and name the players.”