The AFL has come down hard on Jimmy Webster with the Saint handed a seven-game ban. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS
  • Australian rules football

Webster cops huge ban in AFL’s concussion crackdown

Oliver Caffrey March 6, 2024

The AFL’s bid to protect players from concussion has gone into overdrive with tribunal sanctions for head-high contact already skyrocketing in 2024.

In a landmark case, St Kilda defender Jimmy Webster received a seven-game suspension on Tuesday night for his ugly bump that concussed North Melbourne co-captain Jy Simpkin in Sunday’s practice match.

Webster will miss the same amount of matches former Sydney star Barry Hall did following his infamous punch that knocked out a defenceless Brent Staker back in 2008.

The AFL argued the Saints veteran should miss eight games, which would have put him on par with West Coast’s Andrew Gaff for his 2018 punch that broke the jaw of Fremantle’s Andrew Brayshaw.

The tribunal instead imposed a seven-game ban on Webster for the incident match review officer Michael Christian graded as careless conduct, severe impact and high contact.

Previous cases that have been classed by the MRO as careless have never resulted in more than a four-match suspension.

AFL tribunal chairman Jeff Gleeson said Webster was “extremely careless” and the 2024 guidelines included a new provision.

“The tribunal is not bound by any decision at the tribunal or MRO in a previous year and may reasonably exercise its discretion to impose a different classification or sanction that may have been imposed in previous years,” Gleeson said when handing down the tribunal’s verdict.

“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.

“There is no reason to assume that community standards evolve slowly or in a linear fashion. 

“The need to avoid head-high impact and 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 incident happened four days after Port Adelaide forward Sam Powell-Pepper received a four-game ban for a bump that concussed Adelaide defender Mark Keane.

St Kilda’s lawyer Adrian Anderson, a former AFL football operations boss, compared Webster’s conduct to Powell-Pepper, labelling them “very similar”.

“The Powell-Pepper rough conduct was serious; this was worse, considerably worse,” Gleeson said.

“The impact was violent and the consequences for Simpkin were heavy.”

Simpkin has already been ruled out of the Kangaroos’ round-one game against GWS due to being in concussion protocols following the incident.

It was the third concussion the important North midfielder had suffered in the last 12 months.

The AFL, under new chief executive Andrew Dillon, has made concussion its top priority.

Melbourne premiership player Angus Brayshaw was recently forced to cut his AFL career short after scans revealed his brain had changed significantly following a concussion in last year’s qualifying final.

Former No.1 draft pick Paddy McCartin (Sydney), Marcus Adams (Brisbane Lions), Paul Seedsman (Adelaide) and Max Lynch (Hawthorn) were also forced into retirement due to concussion issues during the last 12 months.