AFL considering ‘virtual’ awards night for AFLW

The AFL has told clubs that it is considering holding a "virtual" awards event for the AFLW competition as the league is forced to think outside the square because of a ban on mass gatherings.

While the AFLW season finished unsatisfactorily last month because of the AFL shutdown caused by the coronavirus, headquarters remains keen to celebrate the achievements of the playing cohort in some manner.

Erin Phillips is a dual winner of the AFLW best and fairest.Credit:AAP

Since the inception of the national women's competition in 2017, the AFL has held a gala dinner event – coined the 'W' Awards – at which the league's best and fairest count is held, the All-Australian team is named, the mark and goal of the year awards are presented and the competition's Rising Star is crowned.

Adelaide superstar Erin Phillips has won two of the first three AFLW best and fairest awards – a medal which unlike the men's Brownlow has not yet been named after a person – while Emma Kearney won the 2018 medal after a stellar season for the Western Bulldogs. Kearney has subsequently moved to North Melbourne.

Correspondence between the league and clubs from late last month – seen by The Age – said that the AFL was working through options with respect to the AFLW awards, with a "virtual" aspect being contemplated.

The AFL on Thursday confirmed that the league remained keen to recognise the outstanding performances from a season, which was cut short.

"While the current situation is a challenge for the entire community, the AFL remains committed to celebrating the achievements of each club and individual following the 2020 NAB AFL women’s competition. We are presently working through a range of options to facilitate this," an AFL spokesperson said.

AFLW club sources also suggested that similar measures were being considered for AFLW club best and fairest events, which are generally more low-key gatherings than their male equivalents.

An AFLW season that heralded the introduction of four new teams ended in highly unfortunate circumstances.

The increasing threat of the coronavirus forced most round six matches to be played behind closed doors, before the league took the step of expediting the finals series – meaning the last two rounds of the season were cancelled.

The first weekend of the finals series was played, again without crowds, but the growing impact of the virus forced the league to be shut down with four clubs – North Melbourne, Fremantle, Melbourne and Carlton – still in the premiership race.

The AFL opted against declaring any of those four teams as the competition's premiers, particularly harsh on the undefeated Dockers.

"Given the twin conference structure and that the finals series was not completed, the AFL Commission has determined no premiership will be awarded for this season, following a recommendation from the AFL executive," AFL chief Gillon McLachlan said at the time the decision was announced.

The part-time nature of the competition has been attributed as a reason the three remaining matches could not be completed at a later date.

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MCC considers membership refund debate

The Melbourne Cricket Club faces a looming dilemma about possible membership refunds should the coronavirus crisis wipe out hope of AFL fans attending MCG matches before the end of August.

As debate heats up about whether supporters can and should be able to request a partial or whole refund from their club for the 2020 season, MCC members are in a different position given their annual membership dues were paid for a 12-month period that began at the start of last September.

The AFL remains confident of getting through a 17-round season.Credit:Getty Images

In that time, MCC members have had access to AFL finals, Big Bash League matches and international cricket including the first Boxing Day cricket Test between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG in more than 30 years.

In a message to MCC members after the AFL announced the 2020 season was suspended, president Michael Happell said the MCC was unable to give clarity about potential refunds or returns to members if additional events and games scheduled for the event are cancelled.

"The global COVID-19 pandemic is still evolving and until the club can understand the full impact it will have on the 2020 AFL premiership season, we're not in a position to give an answer at this time," Happell wrote.

"We will keep members updated as the situation continues to unfold."

An MCC spokesperson said the club was getting a lot of queries from members via social media but due to the overall uncertainty of coronavirus no further decisions had been reached.

"People have gotten value out of their memberships so far," the spokesperson said.

The club also has to factor into their considerations that even if the AFL is able to resume at some point, matches might again be played in crowd-less stadiums with only key personnel – players, club officials, ground staff and media – able to attend.

In the past 24 hours both AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and Collingwood president Eddie McGuire have reiterated how critical financial support via membership is for AFL clubs, while also saying that clubs should support fans who are suddenly experiencing financial difficultly.

An impassioned McGuire warned of the perils of a "run on the clubs" if too many members were to seek refunds.

"It's as simple as this – if you don't have members you don't have a club. A club that has no members is a memory. So we need our members to stick with us as much as they can," McGuire said on Channel Nine on Wednesday night.

"If our supporters or anyone gets into financial hardship, speak to us. We are there together because the members are the club.

"This is all about sticking together through tough times.

"You know the history of the Collingwood Football Club. We were founded in the darkest times of depression in the 1890s and got through by building the stands at Victoria Park with sustenance workers."

On Thursday morning McGuire reiterated that the Magpies regularly offered support for fans who struggled to pay their fees.

"We do this all the time with people, every year as I mentioned there, with people if they've fallen on hard times," McGuire said on Triple M.

"But this is about a membership. It's not [just] a transaction.

"The memberships actually keep you alive for 12 months of the year, so a lot of our members [who] have actually put their money in, started putting their membership in October.

"Well that money's been spent to keep the place open until this time."

McGuire's sentiments were echoed by league boss McLachlan who said membership was the "lifeblood" of the league's 18 clubs, however fans were also within their right to request refunds.

"Of course, if they need it," McLachlan told ABC radio.

"But yes, we would love them to stay because our industry is in a battle and our clubs are in a battle to get through and the membership is their lifeblood.

"All I would say is I understand the pain going on out there and people need to make their own decisions and clearly if they want it [a refund], the can [get one].

"But I know our members understand how big their contribution of membership is to their clubs."

The MCC said members who had purchased daily reserved seats or visitor tickets for AFL matches originally scheduled between rounds two and 11 would be contacted by Ticketek.

"Whilst the AFL has suspended the AFL premiership season until at least May 31, the situation regarding the impact of COVID-19 is still evolving. As such we will continue to keep members informed regarding future games as details emerge," Happell said.

– with AAP

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McCartin’s improved health lifts Saints’ spirits

St Kilda coach Brett Ratten remains hopeful Paddy McCartin will be cleared to return to the AFL fold at some point, with the former No.1 draft pick showing improved health in recent weeks.

McCartin, who has suffered eight concussions since 2014, was delisted late last year as part of a plan to put his career on hold until at least 2021.

Paddy McCartin stayed involved with St Kilda’s pre-season before the game was shut down.Credit:Getty Images

McCartin continued part-time training with the Saints during the pre-season before the AFL was forced into shutdown mode because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He was at the club's Moorabbin base at least once a week, involved in team meetings and completed gym sessions.

Rattan said the key forward was still treated as a player on the club's list.

"It's great for him to be able to interact with the players," Ratten said. "He's a great person and we want the best for him. If that news has come through in the last few weeks then that's brilliant for him. We've always said if there's an opportunity to get him back we'll look at that, but he'll need to be ticked off before we make those [decisions]."

Ratten stressed any move for McCartin to return to football would require the appropriate medical clearances.

"You've got to have all the evidence in front of you with the specialists and the doctors to make that assessment and that's not for me to make that call," Ratten said.

"Our doctor's a ripper and he'll make those calls, but whatever is best for Paddy.

"He'll have to make that decision, if he's been given the all-clear, to keep pursuing an AFL career and does he want to keep playing football.

"That's the next question after getting the all-clear, so there's a fair bit of water to go under the bridge there, but it is positive for Paddy if that's the case.

"If he was right and the doctors ticked it off then we really consider him coming back to the club but there's still a lot of work to be done in that space."


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‘It should be a given’: Ferguson says NRLW deserves equal footing

If the NRL is played, the NRLW has to be played.

That's the view of former Jillaroos star Allana Ferguson, as the NRLW fights for survival.

Allana Ferguson wants the NRLW to be put on the same footing as NRL as it fights for survival.Credit:Getty Images

The women's game has been rocked by the revelation that the Roosters and Warriors are set to pull out of the competition due to financial constraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Senior NRLW players, the RLPA and NRL executives have since been discussing the future of the women's game daily.

That resulted in a financial guarantee for the top 20 women in the game, who are all on central contracts.

But there is no certainty as to whether the competition will proceed at all this year, as only the Dragons and Broncos remain guaranteed starters for the 2020 season.

Ferguson, who was at the forefront of the rise of the women's game before a fourth ACL injury forced her into retirement, doesn't think that's good enough.

"It’s disappointing that it hasn’t been the case that if the NRL is played, the NRLW has to be played," Ferguson said.

"It’s just something that is spoken about and the NRL are saying we will try and do our best.

"That’s been the most disappointing aspect, that it isn’t just a given. Because I think it should be a given.

"Rugby league is now (men and women).

"We have tried to change the mindsets, we have shown everyone what it’s all about. It should be a given that if one is played, so should the other."

But NRLW players haven't been made to feel like they're on equal footing since news the future of the competition was in doubt emerged.

Roosters officials and players were caught off guard by Monday’s news, which revealed they would not take part in this year's competition.

That has been "devastating" for everyone involved in the rapid growth of the women's game.

"That's the devastating thing. Women’s rugby league may not be the priority for clubs at this point in time," Ferguson said.

"That’s the impact the women are feeling. They are seeing glimpses that they’re not worth it or they’re not good enough just yet, which isn’t the case.

"Unfortunately what it will come down to is dollars and cents in rugby league. Can they afford it?

"I don’t think there is any club out there that would think it’s not a good opportunity because it is.

"We’ve seen the progression of the women’s game. We’ve seen how they play, what they can do for the market.

"They’re their own business and we’ve seen how successful they have been. It’s in all clubs’ best interests to form a women’s team.

"Unfortunately, the position rugby league is in at the moment – individually and as a whole – is that they may not be able to."

If the competition does pause for at least this year, Ferguson believes it would be a "handbrake" for the growth of the game.

"But we play and they play purely for passion. That’s why they started playing the game," Ferguson said.

"There are some players that are getting monetary benefits now but that was never the case to begin with and they were still playing at the elite level without that recognition and without those monetary payments.

"It has been a bit of a shock but it’s just about getting onto the next job and figuring out what they need to do."

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Cheika weighs into rugby pay cut controversy

Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has weighed into the pay stalemate involving Australia’s top rugby players, suggesting Rugby Australia needs to be more transparent and show strong leadership.

It comes as Raelene Castle released another statement on Wednesday evening responding to criticism over why RA is yet to provide comprehensive financial details to the Rugby Union Players Association.

The relationship between Michael Cheika and Raelene Castle was non-existent by the time the World Cup was finished. Credit:AP

“In a time of crisis, transparency and communication are extremely important. This is where, from what I’ve heard from different players who I’ve spoken to, they’re not getting that.

“Other codes have laid their cards on the table. Some of them have copped a bit of a panning for it … at least there is a certain amount of transparency and I’m pretty sure that the players, when it comes to the discussion around pay cuts, with that information, they all know they’ve got to toe the line.”

In a statement relating to talks with RUPA, Castle said: “We believe the information we have shared, including information on future cash projections, provides the players with enough information to develop a position. We have entered the discussions with RUPA in good faith and look forward to continuing those discussions to reach an appropriate agreement under the current circumstances.”

Cheika then brought up the issue of executive salaries across all sports.

Castle has taken a 50 per cent pay cut, while it emerged on Wednesday evening Todd Greenberg would take the same cut as NRL players when an amount has been determined.

“One thing across the board that has been surprising – I’m not just saying this in rugby – is across the board about the tiering of wage cuts,” Cheika said. “I think in leadership you’ve got to give a direction and align people behind you. It’s pretty difficult when you say I’m going to take 60 per cent, they’re taking 30 and you chaps are getting nothing. All in it together means we’re all in it together.

“If there’s more transparency then everyone says, ‘OK, yeah, we have got a problem and we all have to fix it’ because it’s important to do it. You can’t deny it and there’s no hidden measures.”

The former Waratahs coach was also asked for an opinion on how the future of provincial rugby could look. More local content was the response.

“I think no doubt that Australian rugby fans … would like to see more rugby in their time zone and the continuity of games for our supporters so they can see their players play every second or third week at home,” Cheika said. “Now you can go five weeks without seeing your team at home. How do you build a supporter base? It’s very difficult.

“I think having more games in our time zone would be [good].”

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LISTEN: Golden Point podcast episode 9 with Rob Lowe and Sam Tomkins

Sports statistician Rob Lowe and Catalans Dragons’ Sam Tomkins are the guests on the latest Golden Point podcast.

Rugby league fan Lowe, who in 1996 founded what would become Opta Sports with some university colleagues, was employed as Sky Sports‘ statistician for the first Super League game between Paris Saint-Germain and Sheffield Eagles.

He joins Marc Bazeley and Sky Sports rugby league expert Phil Clarke to discuss how the analysis of the sport has evolved since those early days.

The trio also look at the impact of the video referee, how the switch from winter to summer has effected the sport, whether more should be made of squad numbers and Super League’s record with expansion.

Plus, Catalans Dragons full-back Sam Tomkins speaks to Steve Owen to let us know how he’s coping in France during this period of lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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Wales boss follows Eddie Jones in taking pay cut as shutdown floors rugby union

Wales boss Wayne Pivac joined England counterpart Eddie Jones in agreeing to a 25 per cent pay cut on a horror day for rugby union.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was also subject to a 25 per cent wage deferral, following the path taken by Ireland’s Andy Farrell last week.

As the crippling financial cost of the coronavirus crisis tore into rugby, USA Rugby announced it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

And three-quarters of Rugby Australia's (RA) staff were laid off until the start of July.

RA chief executive Raelene Castle, who will take a 50 per cent cut, described the cuts as "the toughest decision in the game's history”.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster told New Zealand radio that he and other coaches had agreed to “substantial” reductions in salary, but did not give a percentage figure.

In Wales senior rugby staff will join Pivac, chief executive Martyn Phillips and fellow WRU executives in taking the 25% chop. Talks over players' wages are ongoing.

In Scotland, SRU chief executive Mark Dodson will take a 30% drop to his salary until August in an effort to sustain the business operation during the outbreak.

But there was criticism of the tartan hierarchy for not going the whole hog and implementing a cut to their salary.

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Best to come from Richmond’s AFLW ace Monique Conti

Monique Conti's dazzling individual displays were undoubtedly the highlight for Richmond in their winless maiden AFLW season.

The cross-code star averaged almost 20 disposals across six games despite having limited preparation for the football season after switching her focus from basketball.

The Tigers are already salivating at the prospect of seeing the 20-year-old in full flight when AFLW returns on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic-enforced end to the season.

Monique Conti’s performances were a highlight for Richmond in their first AFLW season.Credit:Jason South

"Mon is an unbelievably gifted sportswoman," Richmond head of women's football Kate Sheahan said.

"She didn't really do a pre-season … so we sort of knew the first couple of rounds were going to be an opportunity for Mon to find her feet.

"But holy moly, can that girl play.

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McGuire backs AFL return to traditional suburban grounds

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire has backed a growing push for AFL matches to return to Melbourne's suburban grounds when the competition shutdown is over.

Fixtures are likely to be played behind closed doors, at least initially, if and when the AFL is given the green light to resume the 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

St Kilda’s base at Moorabbin could be an option for AFL games if the 2020 season resumes and pushes into the traditional cricket season.Credit:Getty Images

The Western Bulldogs this week flagged the possibility of hosting premiership season fixtures at Whitten Oval for the first time in more than two decades.

St Kilda's Moorabbin base, now known as RSEA Park, and Carlton's Ikon Park would also be obvious candidates to host matches.

The three venues all hosted AFLW matches this year and their surfaces and facilities are up to the standard required for AFL fixtures.

Historic former AFL venues such as Victoria Park and Windy Hill could also be in the mix.

"There's a real opportunity to do that and that could be something that comes up again with the dramas that have been going on about whether Marvel Stadium would be available because of cricket," McGuire said on Triple M on Tuesday.

"But there's plenty of opportunity [with that].

"I think that these venues are going to play a far bigger role with the women's football and whatever the second-tier VFL competition looks like eventually once we get things going."


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MCC wants cricket, not AFL at MCG on Boxing Day

The Melbourne Cricket Club is yet to lock in a contract to host this year's Boxing Day Test but MCC chief Stuart Fox remains confident the venue will host the iconic cricket fixture despite the AFL's potential push into late December.

However, the AFL appears increasingly likely to be able to call on Marvel Stadium to host matches until the end of the calendar year if it needs with Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts declaring that CA will work with other codes in what is an unprecedented year of disruption for Australian and world sport.

MCG on Boxing Day 2019.Credit:AAP

The AFL and the AFL Players' Association, determined to complete a shortened 17-round home and away season plus finals, despite the coronavirus pandemic, have stated their respective willingness to play games right up until the end of December in order to complete a season, which will be halted for months because of the virus crisis.

While there are huge question marks hovering over when professional sport may return, and when fans will again be permitted to attend sporting events, a turf war between cricket and football had been looming because of the AFL’s proposed push into non-traditional football months.

The first major potential clashes would come if the AFL needed to stretch into mid-October, when the International Cricket Council's men's Twenty20 World Cup is scheduled to begin in Australia.

Most of the AFL's regular venues, including the MCG, SCG, Gabba, Perth Stadium, Adelaide Oval and GMHBA Stadium are locked in to host matches during that event, meaning the AFL would be forced to think outside the square if it ended up playing matches at the same time as the Cricket World Cup.

The ICC said earlier this month that it was planning for the event to proceed as scheduled. The T20 final is scheduled for the MCG on November 15, but even after that point challenges could arise if the AFL season is still going.

The Big Bash League's Melbourne Renegades are contracted to take control of the AFL-owned Marvel Stadium from December 16, although Roberts said on Tuesday that CA would take a collaborative approach with other sports.

"The issues we are confronting today are bigger than any one sport," Roberts said.

"We obviously have obligations to fulfil during the 20/21 cricket season, assuming sport is back up and running, that said, we continue to work with other sports to support them while meeting these obligations."

Scenes from last year’s AFL grand final.Credit:Justin McManus

The MCG would ordinarily be off-limits for other sports in late December because of the traditional Test match, which would this year pit Australia against World No. 1 India. However the MCC’s deal with CA to host the Boxing Day Test has expired, theoretically leaving the door ajar for the AFL to pounce in this year like none before.

However, Fox poured cold water on the prospect of a Boxing Day grand final at the MCG, suggesting talks between the MCC and CA were on track and that the MCC intended to stage the Boxing Day Test this year.

"The discussions with Cricket Australia about a new MCG venue hire agreement are continuing to progress and while there are some obvious and bigger distractions at the moment, we're confident an agreement will be finalised in the near future," Fox told The Age.

"The Boxing Day Test is part of the MCG's DNA and we're hopeful the world will be in a better place by the end of 2020 to enable us to host the traditional event."

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan told SEN on Tuesday that the league was not planning to hold its grand final on Boxing Day.

"I reckon Boxing Day is important to cricket. If we're all working together to work through venue issues and others, I think Boxing Day is a cricket day and has been for a long time," McLachlan said.

"It's Melbourne's Test match day and if that's going ahead then I reckon we'd be churlish to say, 'Yeah, we're going to play on Boxing Day'."

The Renegades' first home game at Marvel last season wasn't until December 29, with most BBL matches generally held in January.

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