They botched the messaging. They botched the trials. They missed their deadline – which they set themselves – of the beginning of trade period. Yet after months of speculation, the AFL has handed down the most widespread changes to the game’s history.
Nine new rule changes – or ate they game adjustments now? No, we seem to be calling them rule changes again. Despite, boldly declaring the age of the rule tweak over, the AFL have retreated from their goal of mass change with the Commission rejecting Steve Hocking’s more radical suggestions, such as an extended goal square. However, something strange has happened. Instead, of continuing down its chosen path of adding and adding new rules to the already overcrowded and confused game, the AFL spun around and retraced its steps. I’m not sure if it was a sudden and miraculous stroke of common sense, a quick briefing from a fan or two, or even a quick scroll through the mighty Mongrel Punt, but the AFL has realised – finally – that more is less.
Barring one absolute howler, the AFL have decided to simplify the rules already written in our Laws of the Games book instead of simply adding more pages. So, what missed and what hit? Here’s our ruling on the rules we will be watching next year, for better or for worse.
1. 6-6-6 CENTRE BOUNCE ZONES (MISS!!)
Alrighty, let’s get this monstrosity out of the way. Let’s call this rule for what it is – zones. Centre bounce zones. People of faith often associate the numbers 666 with the devil, footy fans now have reason to do the same. Perhaps I am exaggerating? On second thought, no, no I am not. This is the only change that introduces more restrictions onto players, contradictory to the new-found philosophy of simplifying that is evident in the eight other decisions.
The rule requires six players from either team to be in both fifty metre arcs, including one in the goal square (the only real purpose for the goal square from 2019 onwards), four in the centre square as per usual, and the two wingers must remain in neutral territory. These restrictions do not apply after the ball is bounced so theoretically it will have no effect whatsoever. But it is just the principle of the thing. It’s the vibe… it’s Mabo. Free movement into any part of the ground is one of the main attractions of the sport. We mustn’t lose that, but for the bounce of the ball at the start of a quarter, and after every goal, we will.
2. RUNNER RESTRICTIONS (HIT)
I, for one, have never truly understood the pure white rage felt by those in AFL House directed at the running fraternity. First, they subject them to compulsory pink outfits and now they are banned from entering the field of play during live action. This means, they are only permitted after goals have been scored (which the AFL certainly hopes is more often next season!).
While Collingwood runner Alex Woodward unfortunately running into Jaidyn Stephenson during the Grand Final had no bearing on Elliot Yeo’s crucial mark and goal, it may well have had a minor effect in pushing this rule across the line. I don’t understand the obsession, but if it simplifies the rules and ends the war on runners, I am willing to accept it as long as they a part of the game, albeit in a limited capacity. We can’t have on-field leaders thinking for themselves now…
3. RUCK CONTESTS (HIT)
This is the type of thinking we need. Not a fresh new rule added to the pile, but taking one away. If you want to open up the game stop restricting it into one form via a rule change, so it’s only means to evolve is with a rule change!
The AFL have scrapped a rule it implemented, removing the automatic free kick against a ruckman for being tackled after taking the ball out of the ruck. It was always a technical free but as we learned on Grand Final day, the game is better when the contentious free kicks are not paid. It’s a good change, but the real question remains -how on Earth did the ruck nomination survive?! That is the exact type of rule that is in the gun, yet bafflingly it lives to fight another day and will hamper the emotional wellbeing of fans.
4. HANDS IN THE BACK ABOLISHED (HIT)
I seriously cannot believe this! The AFL have gone from being that guy who picks up everyone’s garbage at garage sales, to finally having a garage sale to sell all of the rubbish he has collected over the years. Nobody likes seeing frees against a player for simply touching another’s back (except Mike Fitzpatrick and maybe Kevin Bartlett) and it did create numerous grey areas. However, a word of warning - this needs to be specified crystal clear to the umpires when a hand in the back becomes a push. We are at risk here of slight pushes being paid and others being let go.
The hands in the back rule, as poorly-thought-out as it was, gave a clear indicator as to when to blow the whistle. Now, we’re down to interpretations again.
5. KICKING FOR GOAL AFTER THE SIREN (HIT)
Next season when the siren sounds players are allowed to run of their line to do a Stevie J style snap assuming the ball is kicked over the man of the mark. It’s a nice “tweak” that better caters for the modern game. As the SANFL learnt this year, being beholden to outdated rules can become very embarrassing…
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6. PLAYING ON FROM A 50m PENALTY (HIT)
The pointless arbitrary rules regarding the 50m penalty has been removed so power is with the infringed player rather than the infringer. Big thumbs up.
If you want to play on, you play on! No more being forced to wait until the man on the mark meanders into position as he and the umpire debate the merits of the 50. If the offensive player chooses to go, the game flows.
7. MARKS AND FREES INSIDE 9m FROM OPPOSITION GOAL (HIT)
An example of a good tweak. Now defenders do not have to be ramped up against the fence after a mark or free, as the man on the mark will be brought back to be in line with the goal square. This avoids the surprisingly large number of obstacles found inside the boundary line, be they photographers, ball bags (haha – editor), random mats and chairs, LED advertising fences, and fans who do not understand their boundaries (ask Easton Wood).
8. KICK INS (HIT)
Perhaps the most significant change of the bunch. From this day forward, when you are walking around with a footy, no longer will you be alternating between kicking to yourself and bouncing it, as the former skill has been banished from the game. Yet, despite doing away with a part of footy history, this is a welcome change.
The AFL have been quite rightly concerned about sides’ inability to exit their defence from kick-ins and the proportion of scores from the repeat inside 50 from an opposition’s kicks in.
This is a trend that has emerged since the AFL’s reactionary decision to ban deliberate rushed behinds (in the dark days of the rule tinker) after the 2008 Grand Final. This new rule goes someway to arresting this trend.
Fast attacks out of defence are no longer hampered by the small, awkward kick to yourself. Already, Rory Laird wants to know if the disposal from full back is counted as a stat. Look for a certain Crow to have higher stats next season, if so.
9. PROHIBTED FROM SETTING UP BEHIND THE UMPIRE AT CENTRE BOUNCES (HIT)
I suppose they thought nine was a good number?
It makes sense. You can’t touch the umps, so why allow players to set up behind them as they bounce the ball and back out?
The journey was tough and stressful for footy fans everywhere due to the AFL’s handling of the whole shmozzle – but hey, at least they have not stuffed up the destination (too badly). So, now we can all go back to focusing on what is more important… trade speculation!
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