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Does AFLX have a place and purpose?

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Guru
26th July, 2017
15

The game of Australian Football is well known in Australia. But a new shorter form is under development. Known as AFLX, it’s still a work in progress. But is there a place for it?

The closest parallel is rugby union. The traditional 15-a-side game goes for 80 minutes. It’s very technical, has a lot of big hits, a few tries and more penalty goals.

But there’s also rugby sevens. Seven a side, seven-minute halves. Lots of running, few technical penalties, and you never have to wait long to see tries being scored.

AFLX is played on a rectangular field, the size of a soccer or rugby ground. It’s seven players a side, with ten-minute halves. Other than those variants, the rules are similar to the traditional form of AFL.

Few people have ever seen it played. There were a few “secret trials” that the AFL conducted, generally by VFL state players behind locked gates and not publicised. No official games have yet been played at any level.

On such a small ground, it would be a high-scoring game in a short period of time. Get the centre break and a long kick would score. But if you got stuck in the corner for a set shot, it’s a tight angle for a shot at goal.

With only seven a side, you wouldn’t get large packs of players around the ball. You wouldn’t have the numbers to flood the defensive 50, which is half the ground.

This isn’t recreational footy or AFL 9’s, there’ll be bumps and tackles. But somehow, I suspect not as many as in the traditional form of the game.

What would it be like to watch? None of us know. None of us have seen it.

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Who would do well in AFLX? No-one really knows.

Would new strategies and game plans evolve for AFLX? Probably, but at this stage, no-one’s worked out what they would be.

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But the AFL seems to be keen to roll out the new game and trial it in the public eye.

The bye weekend before the finals is being considered. Sporting fixturing, like nature in general, abhors a vacuum.
But it seems unlikely. It’s not ready yet, and clubs are resistant to arranging something at such short notice.

A pre-season AFLX tournament is a possibility for next year. The NRL starts their pre-season with the Auckland Nines and this would be something similar for the AFL.

But the AFL has another shiny new toy in AFLW. The existence of AFLW means that footy season starts at the beginning of February. An AFLX tournament would take some of the spotlight off AFLW.

But it’s still mystifying to many as to what the AFL are trying to achieve with this new form of the game. Why are they doing this?

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Maybe it’s just an idea they’re toying with. Or maybe they have something in mind.

The use of smaller, rectangular grounds would enable the AFL to establish a presence at grounds they otherwise couldn’t. To get AFL onto places like AAMI Park, the Sydney Football Stadium or the new ground about to be built at Parramatta.

It could potentially be designed for places overseas, in countries where there aren’t cricket grounds. But to carve out any success for Australian football in other countries would be an extremely long-term project.

Maybe it’s about extending the reach of the season. The AFL loves to keep itself in the news cycle, and this may be a way of keeping matches being played at times of year when the traditional game is off limits.

But who will play them? Not the current AFL players – rising injury tolls mean no AFL club would want their listed players taking part in off-season AFLX tournaments.

Or maybe the AFL have detected an opportunity that no-one else has seen and they’re going for it.

Cricket purists mocked Twenty20 when it started. Called it meaningless and said it would never be more than a distraction.

Now T20 is a major part of the cricket calendar. Not so much internationally, but as a domestic league.
The inventors of T20 would likely never have imagined that the new form of cricket would bring life and interest back to domestic cricket.

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But an opportunity was spotted, and the short form of the game found its place.

First-class domestic cricket competitions haven’t drawn a crowd for 80 years. But T20 leagues are thriving and rivaling the international games for prominence in the cricket calendar.

Is there a market for AFLX that we haven’t thought of yet? Its place may be somewhere we don’t yet realise.

Or maybe it’s a thought bubble that will pass and never get off the ground. Time will tell.