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The 6-6-6 Rule. What's Gone Wrong?

Well, footy is back and we’re all excited. The more parochial amongst us have already got a little emotional about games that really don’t matter, and as happens every year, people are reading a lot into the form teams show at this time of year.

Underdone stars, kids who may not see a legitimate game of AFL footy all season, and players who will be remembered only as March champions all take the field in a couple of games that either fill supporters with hope, or start them on a downward spiral that won’t end until they draft a new kid late in the year, and hope is renewed.

But this season there is another facet of the game to focus on and distract from the pride or woes the JLT series can inflict – rule changes.

The AFL has implemented a host of changes in one of the most significant update of the rules in recent memory. The abolition of the idiotic ‘hands in the back’ rule will more than likely lead to more contested marks, the tweaking of the kick-in rule will see some clever backmen compiling huge numbers in the ‘metres gained’ category, and then there was the big one – the highly contentious 6-6-6 rule that was set to give forwards the chance at more one-on-one contests.

And didn’t we have ample time to mull over this 6-6-6 rule as the umpires halted play to wait for players to get back into position before a free kick could be taken in the centre square? Over 50 seconds passed in one game as umpires hooted and hollered at players to get back to where they came from before allowing play to restart.

The players were doing what’s instinctive, and went to where they thought the ball would be going next. In the process, they forgot all about these ‘zones’ and how they were being officiated.

In the ensuing confusion, umpires conferred, players looked at each other with the “is he talking to me?” kind of expression you see only in the truly confused, and supporters started to get restless.

Thank goodness this is occurring in the JLT series and not in the real thing.

In the West Coast v Geelong clash on Friday night, time stood still and confusion reigned as a free kick was awarded at a centre bounce. Players were running everywhere, and umpires frantically tried to get their heads around what was going on. The players wanted to play. The commentators wanted them to play as well, and the crowd… well, the crowd wanted to see footy – not a convoluted display of over-officiating that lasted close to a full minute.

By the time the ball was handed to the free kick recipient, the element of surprise was well and truly gone. Wingmen had positioned themselves on the extreme rear edge of the centre square, ready to flood back. The plan was flawed, and whilst it is possible it’ll be ironed out, doing so before the first bounce of the real stuff is probably unlikely.

Once again a rule change was rushed in without the kinks being ironed out. I’m not sure two weeks of games is long enough to get this right.

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Imagine if you will, Thursday the 21st of March – the 2019 season opener between Richmond and Carlton. A packed MCG is buzzing as the siren sounds, rabid supporters starved of their footy are cherry-ripe for the beginning of a new season,  and the game is about to get underway. Players line up, and a little over-eager to get into it, Jack Riewoldt steps out of the goal square.

The whistle blows and the free kick is awarded to Matty Keruzer in the centre of the ground.

Anti-climax, right? You can deal with that; it happens.

But wait, there’s more!

Kreuzer goes back to take the kick, wanting to get the ball in quickly to his forwards.

But the umpires won’t hand the ball back. Marc Murphy has run out of the square and Trent Cotchin has followed deep into the forward line. Charlie Curnow is trying to make position to make the impending contest and is 40 metres away from the goal square where he apparently belongs, and the Tiger wingmen have dropped back inside 50 to take up space. Everyone has to get back to their original positions before Kreuzer is handed the ball and play can commence.

Seconds tick by; 50+ of them.

How will that go over? You think it’s loud when a team kicks a goal? Imagine 90,000 fans booing in unison. That’s what the AFL could be facing if they don’t get to righting what was one of the worst-looking sequences we’ve seen on an AFL field in quite a while. We had a rule implemented, and 50% of the players didn’t know what to do.

It still may play out that way, but at least it won’t be a complete surprise. We’ve already seen it. And nobody liked it.

What is supposed to be an advantage to a team can actually be detrimental. By having to prop and wait for the players to get back to their spots (do you honestly think the opposition will be making haste to get back there?), the AFL is allowing the defence to get set. A move to give the forwards a distinct advantage may end up being a detriment.

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So, how do you fix it?

The logical way seems to be to allow the player to make the decision to take off and start proceedings at whichever time he wants. There is no need for the umpire to hold onto the ball until everyone is ready. It completely kills momentum.

If it is his free kick, let him take it! He shouldn’t be waiting for everyone else to wander back to where the AFL wants them to be – if Kreuzer wants to go, let him bloody go! That’s like going backwards in terms of the direction they’ve indicated. It’s like going back to before the advantage rule was implemented. It’s something destined to be exploited by coaches unless the AFL step in and cut this off at the pass.

We are 16 days out from Round One as I write this, and there is confusion around a newly implemented rule – to say this is less than desirable is a mammoth understatement. We have one more week of JLT games for the AFL to tweak the interpretations and fix what could be, in video game terms, a game-breaking bug.

They wanted a faster pace. They wanted high scoring. They wanted players to have the opportunity to get and go, and they wanted one-on-ones inside 50, yet their biggest rule change thus far flies in the face of all those things. It’s clunky, it’s slow, and it was poorly thought out.

Of all the rule changes we witnessed over the past weekend, this was the one that seemed simplest. Start in a designated area. How much easier could you get? Yet, by the end of the weekend, it stood out as the rule that could bring the whole thing undone.

I’m just hoping it doesn’t happen at the first bounce in 16 days when the Tigers and the Blues are ready to go to war.

When was the last riot at ‘G?

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