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Controversial referee decision gives away Dockers’ comeback goal, free kick against Lachie Sullivan, referee Mathew Nicholls, Fremantle Dockers draw with Collingwood Magpies, reaction, comments, latest news

Death, taxes and a controversial referee’s decision all play a key role in deciding the outcome of an AFL match.

On Friday night, in the final quarter of Fremantle’s eventful draw with Collingwood, Magpies midfielder Lachie Sullivan was penalized for handing the ball off to teammate Nick Daicos instead of field referee Mathew Nicholls after a decision on the ball.

The penalty? A set shot from close range with hardly any angle for Fremantle ruckman Sean Darcy, who saluted to reduce the Dockers’ deficit to just 14 points as they continued their menacing surge at Optus Stadium.

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Having called for a toss, Nicholls took umbrage at Sullivan’s unwillingness to return the ball to him and it was ultimately a factor in costing the Magpies two premiership points.

“He didn’t give the ball back to me, he gave it to a teammate,” Nicholls could be heard saying into his referee microphone during the broadcast.

“You’re not allowed to do that. It’s a free throw, okay?

Four-time senior Hawthorn player Jordan Lewis was skeptical of Nicholls’ sense of play.

“I think a lot of our rules are up for interpretation; We see it with free throws and everything that happens on and around the field. I don’t think you’ll find a person who agrees with his intuition. a free kick,” Lewis said on Fox Footy’s post-match coverage on Friday.

After Darcy capitalized on his charitable donation, the next greats, midfielder Hayden Young and makeshift goalkeeper Alex Pearce, and a Jeremy Sharp behind, tied the score as the final siren sounded.

“It’s a great decision – obviously they don’t pay to hold the ball on free kicks in front of the goal, and he (the referee) takes it away,” Brisbane Lions legend Jonathan Brown said, later defending the thought process Sullivan defense.

“That’s about page 1300 of the rule book. That’s hidden. It’s just common sense: you can see what young Sullivan was doing, he was obviously very aware of the man in (his) defensive 50 of him on a stop.”

Players on both sides were left perplexed by Nicholls’ decision late in the game. Photo: Paul Kane.Source: Getty Images

Herald Sun journalist Jon Ralph explained the AFL’s recently adopted stance on time wasting during matches, but preached “some level of common sense”.

“In 2022, the AFL said they were concerned their game analysis team was seeing too many players wasting time,” Ralph told Fox Footy on Friday night.

“So they cracked down and said ‘we will be less lenient on players who deliberately delay the play.’ So, clearly, it’s a rule that you must return the ball on a stop.

“Here’s the problem: It’s not applied consistently. Very often you see players carrying the ball beyond the boundary line and, before a throw-in, dropping it, throwing it there, and not returning it.

“No one believed Sullivan was wasting his time there. No one had seen this decision pay in so long. By the strictest interpretation, it is correct, (but) there has to be some level of common sense or a shade of gray.”

The Dockers and Magpies played out an improbable draw at Optus Stadium on Friday night. Photo: Will Russell.Source: Getty Images

Lewis cited Nicholls’ extensive pedigree as a referee before stating that the veteran referee would be retrospectively “disappointed” with his decision to penalize Sullivan.

“Matty Nicholls is an experienced referee so you would hope that in that case, in a close game, he would have a level head,” Lewis continued.

“Now I think we can all agree that (Sullivan’s act) is not a free throw. I know, by the letter of the law (it is), but we’ve seen… there was an (incident) later during the game where (John) Noble knocked him to the ground to get back into his position.

“There were countless occasions where it was a boundary shot and the player just dropped it and didn’t return it to the boundary umpire… I think he (Nicholls) would be disappointed with the decision.”

Collingwood champion Nathan Buckley noted: “That boosted the momentum for the Dockers didn’t it?”

Closing the discussion, Melbourne legend Garry Lyon asked: “What kind of game would we have if everything was judged so meticulously?”

The AFL is likely to provide an explanation on Saturday about Nicholls’ call.

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