Sydney, Adelaide and Geelong have each supplanted Hawthorn from top spot on the AFL ladder with one round remaining before the finals series, but it was an act of mindlessness that blighted an otherwise intriguing weekend of football.
The Hawks came up against a West Coast side on a mission in Perth on Friday night where the Eagles won by 25 points, 13.14 (92) to 10.7 (67), while the Swans fended off a determined North Melbourne by 9 points in Hobart on Saturday, winning 12.13 (85) to 10.16 (76).
The match in Perth provided an emotional return for the Eagles’ Lewis Jetta. Dropped to the WAFL, Jetta earned a recall for the match against Hawthorn and his shift to deep defence saw a consistent performance.
Geelong did what it needed to against a struggling Brisbane Lions and won handsomely, 19.15 (129) to 10.9 (69), while an Eddie Betts-inspired Adelaide banked the four premiership points against Port Adelaide, 15.19 (109) to 14.10 (94).
Betts was the man of the moment for the Crows, kicking a game-high five goals to inspire his side. But an incident early in the game saw a flame-haired female Port fan throw a banana at him after celebrating a goal.
The banana has racial connotations; in European soccer, black players have been subject to monkey chants and bananas thrown at them by racist opposition fans.
Betts, being the champion he is, shrugged off the incident to be key to his side’s victory.
Perhaps the two biggest names in the AFL, the Swans’ Lance Franklin and the Hawks’ Cyril Rioli were both kept relatively quiet in their respective games.
Franklin was kept goalless for the match by his Kangaroos opponent Robbie Tarrant, while in Perth, Rioli was kept in check and kept to a modest performance against the Eagles.
Four-time premiership star Shaun Burgoyne, however, racked up the numbers but the pressure by the Eagles saw most of his disposals become ineffective.
Yesterday, the AFL Players’ Indigenous Advisory Board applauded the swift action taken by the Port Adelaide Football Club following what it called a “disappointing incident”.
Board chair Shaun Burgoyne said: “There’s no room for racism of any form in our game and we are saddened that incidents of this nature continue to occur.
“We want fans to be passionate and cheer for their team, but there’s a line and it was clearly crossed on this occasion.
“Eddie Betts is one of the most popular players in the game and his 250th match should have been a time for celebration.
“The AFL industry is taking great strides to ensure Aussie Rules is a game for everyone, but this serves as a reminder that more work needs to be done.
“We are buoyed by the emphatic response from the community and hope this incident provides an opportunity for further education.”
In the NRL, reigning premiers North Queensland have a tough run to defend their crown ahead of the NRL finals series but a win at the weekend has given them some hope.
The Johnathan Thurston-led Cowboys turned around a two-week slump to record a 28-point hiding to the New Zealand Warriors, 34-6, in Townsville on Saturday.
They now sit fifth on the ladder, sharing an identical 13-9 win-loss record with sixth-placed Brisbane, their foes in last year’s epic Grand Final, decided in golden point.
But all eyes are on Melbourne, who are leading the competition by some margin.
The Storm waltzed to a 38-18 win over their former Grand Final combatant Manly to secure top spot and the minor premiership.
Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart is downplaying his side’s red-hot form after yet another stellar performance, this time recording a comeback 28-18 win over Parramatta on Sunday.
The win was the Raiders’ eighth straight win and their premiership credentials have firmed.
Cronulla enjoyed a golden run before a three-week dip and they have a chance to atone tonight against South Sydney, led by superstar Greg Inglis.