Sherman or Water – What is Tanking in the AFL?

Which is Tanking? We are just over half way through the year and that means the new favorite sport of the AFL footy media and its fans turns from the game on the ground to the talk of tanking! Everyone loves to talk about tanking but what is tanking?

There really is two behaviours that fans and the media talk about as being tanking and it is a matter of separating the two behaviours to work out what level you have to get too before each person talking on this subject considers it to be tanking. So lets move onto the two forms:

List Management Tanking

The first method I like to call List Management Tanking or LMT. This is method that most people talk about as being tanking and in some ways can be argued that it leads to the next method. So LMT is the practice of manipulaNick Hollandting your list to best have it ready for future seasons without worrying about the effect it has on the current game/season. Things done in this mode of tanking include:

  1. Not playing injured players – Players play injured every week in the AFL. Many players would tell you they never play at 100% but when you can’t make the finals, lots of teams stop risking there players with injury to a great extent and often move to point 2 earlier
  2. Send players for Surgery and Clean-ups earlier – In today’s footy nothing is as important as getting a good preseason under your belt. You can see the difference in teams when they have a good preseason compared to not. Have a look at Geelong of 2006 compared to 2007. During 2006 it was argued that there preseason training was off (for a few reasons) but they got it right 2007 and with few players different, they went from 10th to Premiers. A team that is argued to have used this technique was North Melbourne of 2006 who sent guys for surgery early and came out firing in 2007 with those guys ready in round 1
  3. Not playing old players that aren’t going to be in the sides next Flag tilt – You have a 32 year old. They still are in you best 22 now but will they be in 2 or 3 years time when your kids are ready to start challenging the leagues best? No. So why play them now? You don’t, you bansh them to your seconds side where they can give there experience to the kids there. If they don’t like this, they could retire which in some ways can be better as it takes the media off your back asking why your not playing Joe Blogs even though he is best on ground every week! The Hawks did this in around 2005 with Nick Holland. Nick took a lot of flack for his play in his final years, but injuries killed his career. He fought on manfully in the VFL but his card had been stamped not to play for the Hawks again, and he didn’t. Be making this decision, you open the way for point 4.
  4. PLAY THE KIDS – Do I need to say more? To quote Whitney Houston “Teach the children and let them lead the way”. There is no better teacher then experience and there is no better experience in the AFL then playing in the AFL. When your season is shot and your older players are either off getting cleaned up or been given the ass, you have to play someone and the kids are the ones that get the gig, ready or not! You throw them to the wolves and let them see where they need to get too. Everyone says that there is a huge step up between the VFL/QFL/WAFL/SANFL/Sydney’s reserves where ever that is, so why not have them see that for a few games at the end of the season to see how hard they need to work to be ready for the next year. No need for an example here, it just makes sense!
  5. Playing out of position Okay, yes Sheeds made a living out of it, but sometimes in the cool days near the end of winter when the only decisions you and your side have for September is Hawaii or Los Vegas, its time to see if your full back would actually be able to kick you a bag in your forward line or can my back pocket be the next Kane Cornes/Cameron Ling just hiding away there in our backline? As Darryl Sommers said in that famous NT ad “You never, never know if you never, ever give it a go!” (okay, I butchered the end a little). You have nothing to lose (except the game). At worst he will learn about another position, at beat you find you have a player that can fill that whole we thought we had!

There might be more (and if there are, leave them in the comments below) but these are the main ones that come under the debate of is this tanking or is this List Management and the debate will rage for ever. What there is little room for debate is that whether you get a priority pick or the first pick in the draft, all these techniques will improve your side with little penalties to your side, so if your not doing this, your not really looking after your side! The latest team to be labelled to be tanking in this method is the West Coast Eagles. In Round 12 of the 2008 season, the Eagles held back Chad Fletch, Michael Braun and Daniel Kerr was a late omission. Kerr was interviewed on the night and claimed he wanted to play but the club decided that it was safer for him not to play. Also on the night Dean Cox was rested for an amount of time and at points that didn’t make a lot of sense for most watching the game (especially those with him in their Supercoach or Dream Team). So are West Coast tanking? That’s up to you to decide! If you believe List Management is tanking (LMT), then yes the Eagles are tanking. If you don’t consider this tanking, you need to look at the next form of tanking to see if they meet that criteria.

Throwing Games Tanking

Thorwing Games Tanking (TGT) is as its name suggests sabotaging your team and telling them not to win. This is normally in relation to teams that have won very few games and are still

in line for a Priority Pick as long as they don’t win enough games. This (to me) is a very serious practice to be accused of and it normally only comes in the last few rounds after you have been using LMT techniques for a number of weeks already. In this form of tanking you are looking for players to be making mistakes that they just shouldn’t be making (even in a side that is obviously having a shite year) or players that are suddenly taken from the ground when they are getting on top of their opponent.

The classic accusation (not by me I must add but others) of this was from 2007 when Carlton from last year that needed to have 16 or less points in order to get the prized first pick in the draft as well as pick 3 which they eventually used to take Matthew Kruzer and traded pick 3 (and Josh Kennedy) to get arguably the best player in the league, Chris Judd. They had (if you believe they tanked) successfully stayed under the 18 points that would see these picks slip away coming into round 22 vs the bottom 3 Melbourne that was in just as bad, if not worth condition. The talk in the media was that this would be the worst game ever. Fevola, the Blues number 1 forward had been off to surgery weeks ago, and in fact left the field in a game in a situation that brought speculation that he was yank from a game in strange situation. In the game, there wasn’t exactly a great deal to show tanking. There was talk that Travis Johnson (who ended with 42 disposals) wasn’t tagged and if you look at the scores, the Blues had about the same number of scoring shots but kicked much less accurately (they had 18 behinds vs 13 to the Dees). But who knows? Tony Liberatore, then an assistant coach at the Blues, came out and suggested that they tanked but gave no evidence that it was anything more then LMT.

The thing about TGT is that firstly its hard to prove and secondly, if it is proven, you would be up the shitter as you would be guilty of Match Fixing that is an extremely serious offense and if it is proven, your side would be up the creek for a long time, much like Carlton was after recent Salary cap breaches. I don’t think Carlton used TGT last year. They definitely used LMT but why wouldn’t they? They had a lot of kids and needed to see who could play and who couldn’t. I seem to remember Freo being accused of this around 2000 but again it was never proven.

So now I have defiend the two forms of tanking. If you have more ideas or comments on my definitions, let me know below. Now that we have defined tanking, what do you call tanking? If you ever come up with, “a way to stop tanking”, make sure you define what you call tanking so that people can see if your method fixes it. Thats the next thing I will look at in this tanking series. What you have too look at when trying to stop tanking and what you can’t do.


  1. Good write up Molly, guess this follows on from what we first discussed over at Kick2Kick.

    However I do think carlton TGT, if you look at the game, it was rather obvious!

  2. mollyfud says:

    Thanks for the nice words. The reason for the article did come off of having
    many discussions about Tanking in different forums (a lot on bigfooty and
    other blogs like yours) and repeating myself over and over as I think a lot
    look at the perception without thinking through the whole issue and what you
    will give up when you follow some of the schemas to there final conclusion.
    I hope that becomes apparent as the series evolves. On Carlton, they had
    most to gain from a TGT tank (even more so with Judd becoming available) but
    it is impossible to prove (unless someone inside the club puts there head on
    the line). I think TGT happens least often, is not what most people talk
    about when they talk about tanking (they most mean LMT) and is the one sort
    that something can be done about. Stay tuned as I think the next installment
    is things to consider about when trying to get rid of tanking and then look
    at the Options for stopping tanking (you probably already no my thoughts on
    this but some might be surprised on my suggestion!)

  3. It is hard to stop and know exactly what TGT is and how to spot it but do you need a better example than Carlton last year?

    Looking forward to your stuff

  4. mollyfud says:

    I think Carlton is a perfect example and I will further explore it!

  5. molly, without being rude i think you should re-read your stuff before they post it up… you and i have very different ideas with regards to tanking, i’m coming up with something that i’d love for you and i to debate over. i’ll pm you in bigfooty when it’s done

  6. mollyfud says:

    Hey Daz,
    You are correct, I should do a better job of proof reading but time
    and life get in the way (probably why I rather the Audio format (not
    that I am saying that is perfect either).
    Would love to see what you come up with. If you want to guest post
    here, please feel free to let me know and I can set it up!

  7. Whatever tanking is, I hope Freo can do it succesfully so that we can finally pick up some quality picks in the top 10. With two other ring-in sides entering the comp, I could be 90 before Freo wins a flag… if we don’t get those picks. Irony is that we’ll probably get beaten to the punch by that rabble up the road!

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