So, as captain of the often mysteriously disappearing, green screened Rampage team, Jack Riewoldt booted a pink footy through the goals and into a pack of kids, bubbles and a rock-climbing wall. In doing so, he earned a 20-point Gatorade Gamechanger goal from the forward zone to claim the AFLX title – you were a probably entitled to a deep breath. Perhaps you even required a blunt explanation about what the hell was going on? But that was the world the second incarnation of AFLX launched us into; the question is whether it is an environment the rest of the world want to be placed in?
AFLX mark II was a significant improvement on the original. The best players in the game taking the field ensured that was the case. The physicality was scarce but the high-marking was not, especially Jack Riewdolt’s mark early in the night, which was pleasing to see as the iconic aspect of the traditional game was a notable absentee last year. Equally pleasing was the lack of injuries for the second successive year which would have come as relief for the no-doubt nervous eighteen coaches.
The fact that AFLX was this year “one night only” was definitely a factor in its improvement, as three consecutive days of AFLX tournaments are enough to give even those who see the AFL’s vision, a headache. While many have voiced their disdain at the new format, it proved to be a winner as the eighteen AFL club format of last year simply did not cut it. That was never going to bring the best players out on the stage. The 2018 version did not feel as fun. In truth, it felt boring. AFLX is many things but it certainly is not boring.
Players have been crying out for an all-star game for many years since State of Origin died its natural death as part of the nationalisation of football in the 1990s. International Rules has been only sporadic over the past decade, and that only offers one-way AFL player representation. The best we have had this century, by way of current day representative games, was the highly-successful AFL Hall of Fame Tribute Match in 2008 that saw Victoria play the Dream Team in front 70,000 at the MCG to celebrate the game’s 150th anniversary.
Therefore, when I hear the players, to a man, say that they have enjoyed the concept, I believe them. Sure, the $5,000 to $20,000 cheque would not have gone astray, but I genuinely felt the camaraderie between the opposing AFL players, something that has been notably absent when compared to previous generations. That was the thing the players truly enjoyed.
Predictably, many including the legendary Leigh Matthews, have called for AFLX to adopt State of Origin teams instead of the superhero franchises. But this is coming from the perspective of a rusted-on supporter of the game. They are not the concept’s target audience. AFLX is not trying to preach to the choir. While, the State of Origin-style teams would have increased the interest of many football supporters, it would completely alienate any international fans to the concept, let alone those not represented by an actual state team. Many will no doubt roll their eyes at the notion of international fans tuning into AFLX on Friday night, however, this game is not for today. It is for tomorrow.
So what is the point of it trying to resemble yesterday?
Besides, those who genuinely want to see State of Origin return, and I am sure there are plenty, will be far from satisfied with a hybrid AFLX version of State of Origin. They want – and deserve – the real thing! AFLX State of Origin delivers the worst of both worlds, so no one is happy.
The new franchise concept was a success due to the personalities and contributions of captains Nathan Fyfe, Jack Riewoldt and Patrick Dangerfield in making it work. They were critical in giving the identity-less franchises some soul. Moreover, the inclusion of an Indigenous All-Star team, led by Eddie Betts, provided a team that did have a pre-established identity, as well as a sense of brotherhood. Betts’ team had the ability to connect with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous fans in a way the other teams could not.
AFLX got a lot right this time around, but it was far from perfect. Firstly, the superimposed advertising looked ridiculous, especially when the players were walking on top of it or disappearing in it, if you were wearing a green jumper. I understand advertising is a key part of how AFLX is able to break even (so hold off with your “waste of money” quips) but for a primarily broadcast product it has too look better than what it did.
Speaking of money, Marvel Stadium probably wasn’t the ideal venue for the occasion. Club outcry saw the AFL unsuccessful in introducing a superhero themed AFLW round at Marvel (complete with altered superhero club jumpers), thus, making it clear that the AFLX superhero theme was part of the sponsorship arrangement with the now AFL-owned ground.
Notwithstanding that, a soccer venue such as AAMI Park would have been a better alternative, as it would have more neatly displayed the transition to a rectangular shaped playing arena. It also would have avoided the “gaps” on the green stuff being filled with a bombardment of bubbles, rock climbing walls and all sorts of kid-friendly nonsense. It too would have bridged the gaps off the field in the grandstand as AAMI Park would have still been able to cater for the impressive 23,000 strong crowd.
The football republic’s second glimpse into this strange world of AFLX probably did not tempt many fans to jump head first into this confronting alternate universe. However, that is beside the point. The more important question is - did the tournament showcase enough of our great game, for the AFL to convince the billionaires it is courting to go all in on new AFLX franchises?
Even if the answer is “maybe”, it would change the footy world, whichever one we are currently residing in.
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