The AFL has today unveiled nine rule changes that will take effect for the 2019 season, although the controversial 18-metre goal square that was trialled in the VFL will not be one of them.
The biggest change of all will be the requirement that teams will be required to field six players in the midfield, and six players in each 50-metre arc – including one in each goal square – at each centre bounce.
In addition to the four players in the centre square, each club will have to have one player on each wing, who cannot be in front of or behind the centre square.
While players will be able to move as soon as the ball is bounced, a free kick will be paid against a team who has a player out of position at a centre stoppage.
Another massive change will be a radical shake-up to the kick-in after a behind. A player will no longer be required to kick the ball from the goal square, and can simply handball out of the square or just walk out as if it were general play.
The man of the mark will now have to stand ten metres behind the line, rather than five.
As previously hinted at by the AFL, runners and water carriers will now only be allowed on the ground after a goal and must leave the ground before the ball is bounced. AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking, however, was not able to name the specific punishment a club will receive should their runner be on the ground inappropriately.
Players will now also be permitted to run out and snap the ball when having a shot at goal after the siren, provided they’re still kicking the ball directly over the head of the player on the mark.
Also unveiled was players now having the ability to play on at any point after they’ve been awarded a 50-metre penalty – no longer are they required to walk the full 50.
Additionally, a player could potentially be pinged for 50 again if they encroach the protected area while they are walking the 50.
A distance from the boundary line a player must stand if they’re on the mark has been increased from five meters to nine metres, preventing players from hemmed in unnecessarily when they’ve taken a mark or free kick close to the boundary.
One rule that may prove more popular with fans is a relaxing of the controversial ‘hands in the back’ law. Previously, players in a marking contest were automatically penalised for placing a hand in their back of their opponent in a marking contest.
Now, a player will be allowed to do so, provided they’re simply protecting space they’ve already established and they push their opponent in the back.
The last two rules introduced include taking the ball directly out of the ruck no longer counting as the ruckman having had prior opportunity if they’re tackled, as well as the area behind the umpires at stoppages being policed more heavily.