AFL 2023: Richmond’s Trent Cotchin in tribunal hot water after forearm hit on Melbourne’s James Harmes

Former Richmond captain Trent Cotchin is once again in hot water with the match review panel over an apparent forearm drilled into the neck of Melbourne tagger James Harmes during the Tigers’ 121-71 loss to the Demons on Saturday.

In the third quarter of the match, video shows Cotchin and Harmes appear to be holding each other behind the play, with Cotchin on top and opting to strike down on Harmes with a forearm, giving away a free kick.

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“He just dropped a forearm,” said former Saint Nick Dal Santo on Fox Footy.

With the Match Review Panel sitting for the first time in 2023, there’s no precedent for grading but News Corp’s Jon Ralph described it as a “poor look”.

With an elbow to the neck behind the play likely to be classified as intentional conduct, the question is then how severely the Match Review Officer will grade the hit.

An impact graded as being of medium severity will attract a two match suspension, given that the contact was to the neck, while low severity will attract a week.

In the event that the Match Review Officer classifies Cotchin’s hit as careless, it will be assessed as attracting a low-level fine, which will likely count as a first offence given Cotchin’s relatively clean record over the last two years.

Where this may come into doubt is with the AFL’s updated tribunal guidelines for 2023, which no longer require at least three individuals to be involved in a melee in order to be classified as such.

The incident with Harmes could itself be classified as instigating or engaging in a melee rather than as striking, which could see Cotchin fined up to $5000 for instigating a melee ($3500 with an early plea), or $4000 for engaging in one ($2500 with an early plea).

With Cotchin having been fined previously for engaging in a melee in 2016 and again in 2017, as well as twice again for striking in 2017, his record is not considered clean for the purposes of melee charges.

Cotchin has a chequered history with the match review panel, but seemingly has the golden touch at the Tribunal, having not been suspended since a four-week absence in 2010 for charging.

Cotchin infamously was cleared of rough conduct after an incident that concussed Dylan Shiel in the 2017 preliminary final, paving the way for him to win his first premiership with Richmond.

The AFL have focused on protecting the head and neck region in recent years, and have wanted to stamp out the kinds of sneaky off-ball hits that Cotchin has developed a reputation for with opposition fans.

One Carlton supporters’ account said in response to the vision: “death, taxes and Cotchin being a dirty player.”

“Be shocked if he’s suspended, but he should be.”

Another social media user said “his on-field behaviour is completely incongruous with (his) good guy image.”

The deadline for an early plea is 11am on Monday morning, which may see Cotchin avoid a week’s suspension.

The former captain is anticipated to play up front this year for the Tigers, despite having only kicked 16 goals in the last two years.

Former Port Adelaide great and commentator Kane Cornes said he gave the shift “two weeks.”

“I give the experiment two weeks,” he said.

“If he’s not playing (in the centre bounce), I don’t think he’s Richmond’s best 22.

“(Forward) is the toughest position to play, the athleticism required.

“It’s an unrealistic expectation for a player who’s going to be 33 by Round 1 this year, with the injury issues that he’s had and the speed and dynamic nature of that role.”

Key Richmond forward Jack Riewoldt told media that Cotchin playing forward was “important” for the Tigers.

“Clearly with the additions to our football club, with Tim (Taranto) and Jacob (Hopper) coming along, we’re looking really strong in the midfield so we’re looking to repurpose Trent in a different position,” he said.

“Footballers play football in any position, and Trent’s a great of our club and a great footballer.”

Cotchin is not the only player under the microscope on Monday morning after the last round of pre-season fixtures, with Jordan De Goey’s tackle on Hawthorn’s Lloyd Meek and GWS’ Braydon Preuss both facing the MRO.

De Goey brought the Hawthorn ruckman down in a strong tackle, grabbing him over the shoulder without pinning the arms.

“He did spin him, he dumped him, and (Meek’s) head certainly hit the ground, which is what the AFL is looking for,” News Corp’s Jon Ralph said on Fox Footy.

“A medium impact tackle would be a week – only 11 months after a one-week ban for a very similar tackle on Patrick Dangerfield,” Ralph said.

Preuss, meanwhile, took Gold Coast’s Tom Berry low in their fixture at Blacktown International Sportspark, with the Suns forward getting airborne to get his hands away, and subsequently flipping forward.

Giants coach Adam Kingsley believes Preuss should remain cleared, calling it “a part of the game.”

The AFL season gets underway on March 16 with the traditional Thursday night fixture between Richmond and Carlton at the MCG.

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