Sam Powell-Pepper attempts to break a tackle from Hawk Jai Newcombe.

DAD, may God bless him, would always shake his head while he sunk deeper into his big armchair at Alberton while watching the "replay" of the SANFL match of the day on Saturday nights.

At some stage, Wally May and Ian Aitken - both former league players, May coming to the SANFL from the VFL and Aitken from the WAFL - would argue over a free kick. In the middle, former league umpire Max Hall, would try to offer the wisdom of Solomon by saying: "That (free kick) could have gone either way ..."

And Dad would shake his head and say: "What sort of game is this that the same moment can have two different outcomes?"

It is what we call "Aussie Rules" and many mock as the game with "Rafferty Rules".

And no rule draws greater frustration from the fans - let alone the players and coaches - than holding-the-ball. Always has, probably always will.

There have been many home renovations that have pulled up old lino floors to find the newspaper lining includes a sports columnist ranting about the holding-the-ball rule ... or as it was in a bygone era, the holding-the-ball/holding-the-man rule. It was the time when Lindsay Head at West Torrens and Kevin Bartlett at Richmond would bounce the ball just before being tackled and be "rewarded" with a holding-the-man free kick.

Now it would be holding-the-ball ... or should be.


Pick up the Laws of Australian Football and a fair bit of space is dedicated to the holding-the-ball rule.

Law 17.6.1 is simple with it "intent": " ... the player who has possession of the football will be provided an opportunity to dispose of the football before rewarding an opponent for a legal tackle."

No-one needs to be a Philadelphia lawyer to see how the framework of that rule can be open to many interpretations. As Max Hall would say, much to Dad's bewilderment, the free kick could go "either way".

The intent says "opportunity to dispose of the football". Many would say that intent should dictate "legally dispose" of the ball by a handball or a kick. Now there is so much throwing that is not penalised. And players who have the ball knocked out of their possession by the tackler are penalised with a holding-the-ball call.

Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney noted on Monday morning that players can be spun "720" (that is twice around the clock) by a tackler and not be penalised.

Yet, Port Adelaide half-forward Sam Powell-Pepper on Saturday night had no way to legally dispose of the Sherrin while his Hawthorn tackler held one of SPP's arms and had his legs in a vice-like grip that would have impressed Dad when he would watch World Championship Wrestling on Sunday mornings before the Channel Nine Football Show in those black-and-white days of the late 1960s-1970s.

As the umpire who called holding-the-ball told a bewildered Powell-Pepper: "Sometimes the tackler is too good." (Pity the same umpire was not in control when young Port Adelaide forward Mitch Georgiades made a strong and fine tackle under the arm pits of a charging and ducking Hawthorn defender midway during the third term to be penalised for a high tackle).

In the commentary box, now vacated by May and Aitken, someone did ask: "Did Powell-Pepper have prior opportunity?"

Ah, the extra clauses - the subjective lines - in Law 17.6. "Prior opportunity" and "reasonable time to dispose of the ball" .... "genuine attempt" ...

It still can go either way Dad. And in a few decades someone will be trawling the Internet - rather than pulling up an old kitchen floor - to find in Season 2021 we were just as confused as they were in 1951 and 1921 and 1881 on the rule that torments everyone the most.

Could go either way ...