Fremantle players leave the ground at half-time, well behind on the scoreboard. Photo: Joe ArmaoThe AFL has cleared Fremantle of any wrongdoing after Saturday’s loss to St Kilda put the club’s controversial decision to leave out 12 players under the spotlight.
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St Kilda came in from a $6 outsider with some bookies earlier in the week to a $1.65 favourite by the time teams were released on Thursday.

The Dockers made 10 changes and there were a further two late withdrawals on game day.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said at the weekend the league would have to look at its rules regarding the mass resting of players, but exactly what possible steps headquarters could take to ensure clubs selected teams close to their best before finals remained unclear.

Former Essendon star Matthew Lloyd said on Sunday that one measure the AFL should consider was scheduling interstate teams – such as the two Western Australian clubs or the two South Australian teams – against each other in in final round so they did not have to travel the week before the finals.

An AFL spokesman said on Sunday the league had no issue with Fremantle’s resting policy, ticking off the club’s strategy despite Saturday’s result and the public conjecture it had caused.

”Resting players and other player selection decisions in preparation for a finals series, or for the development of a team, is not against the AFL rules,” the AFL spokesman said.

”These are regarded to be legitimate competitive objectives.”

But an issue would have arisen if it had been suspected the Dockers were putting the result of the game in jeopardy by resting players in order to manipulate the opponent they would face in the first week of the finals.

But given Fremantle was always going to play Geelong in this weekend’s qualifying final – the venue for the match was the only factor in question – Fremantle received the all clear, and no further investigation was planned by the AFL.

”It is not legitimate to make team selections with the express purpose of manipulating a club’s position on the ladder for the purpose of improving their draw in a finals series or improving a club’s draft position,” the spokesman said.

Fremantle decided to rest seven players – Nat Fyfe, David Mundy, Hayden Ballantyne, Michael Johnson, Zac Clarke, Zac Dawson and Lee Spurr – against the Saints at Etihad Stadium to spare them back-to-back interstate trips the week before the finals.

Other key players, Michael Walters (knee) and Nick Suban (hamstring), were already ruled out with injuries, and Stephen Hill (hamstring) was added on Thursday.

Garrick Ibbotson (calf) and Chris Mayne (rested) were late withdrawals on game day.

All 12 players are expected to return for Saturday’s qualifying final against Geelong at Simonds Stadium.

Part of the criticism levelled at the AFL’s handling of the issue was the fact that some clubs – including Fremantle and Ross Lyon’s former club St Kilda – had used the same selection tactic several years earlier and no action was taken.

In round 21, 2010, the Dockers – then coached by Mark Harvey – left out seven players for an interstate match in Tasmania two weeks out from the finals.

Fremantle lost the game by 116 points to Hawthorn in a result that was criticised as being farcical.

Second Qualifying Final

Geelong v Fremantle Saturday, 2.20pm, Simonds Stadium

Selection Table

The Dockers will probably change half their side from Saturday’s loss to St Kilda, with Nat Fyfe, David Mundy, Michael Johnson and crucially – Luke McPharlin – among up to 12 key inclusions. Clancee Pearce won’t play though, after suff ering a calf injury that could end his season. It’s all good news for the Cats, with Steven Motlop and Mark Blicavs both expected to be available. What do Geelong do with their talls?

2013 MeetingsRound 14: Geelong 11.19 (85) defeated Fremantle 7.2 (44) The Cats stormed clear in the second half, turning a 10-point half-time lead into a 41-point victory, and restricted the Dockers to just 32 inside 50s for the game and just seven after half-time.

Why Geelong will win: Because they always do on their home ground. The Cats have won 43 of their past 44 matches at Simonds Stadium. And while Ross Lyon saved half the team from back-to-back road trips, there has to be some concern about the eff ect on the other half or why go through the whole exercise? Was it too close to finals for the Dockers to be flirting with their form is the other big question? Why Fremantle will win: Because they play a defensive, finals brand of football that could worry Geelong. The Cats are irresistible when allowed to play aggressive, but if the Dockers lock down and turn this into a battle of attrition, they could cause an upset. Fremantle has a history of getting under the skin and unsettling Chris Scott’s team, and the Dockers beat Geelong in the elimination final last year.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.