The Thursday night game between Richmond and Carlton – although finishing as expected – served up a number of milestones.
The AFL says it’s listened to fans and will introduce nine rule changes next year to produce more free-flowing football and make the game a better spectacle.
AFL general manager of football operations Steve Hocking said the new rules were shared with AFL coaches 10 days ago and were well-supported and he felt that fans would feel similarly.
“We have taken good care of the game and listened to what fans have had to say,” Hocking said on Thursday.
“We’ve done extensive work in interviewing fans and it’s all wrapped up in this – it’s not about one individual looking after the game, it’s about a group of people.”
The changes come after a 10 month analysis of the game and consultation with current and past players, coaches, umpires and fans.
The tweaks are designed to arrest some of the low-scoring football of the past five seasons.
One notable omission is the proposed change to the goalsquare to 18m, with the AFL commission instead introducing two rules changes that will give players more space and time at kicks-ins.
Under the changes, the man on the mark will be positioned an extra five metres back at kick-ins and players will be able to play on from the goalsquare without first kicking the ball to themselves.
“We’ve advanced it beyond the 18m,” Hocking said.
“This option really challenges the defensive options within the game as there’s multiple options available to the player to be able to put the ball back into play.
“Not only have we covered off the ability to kick the ball a greater distance but you can also take the game on by stepping outside the goalsquare and playing on with freedom.”
Among the other changes, the hands-in-the-back rule will be scrapped while ‘traditional’ playing positions will be enforced at centre bounces, with six players required to start in the two 50m arcs and four in the centre square zone, with two on the wings. Each team will need to start with one player inside each goalsquare.
Players will also be given more space to take their kick after marking or receiving a free kick deep in defence, and the freedom to play on after receiving a 50m penalty.
“The changes are about enhancing what’s great about the game – the fast and open nature of the game, the unique skills of the players and we’re also looking to even up the offensive and defensive strategies,” Hocking said.
Rule changes 2019
1. Traditional playing positions at centre bounces
Clubs must have six players inside both 50m arcs, with one player inside the goal square.
Four midfield players must start inside the centre square with the two wingmen stationed along the wing.
At kick-ins, a player will no longer need to kick to himself to play on from the goalsquare.
Following a behind, the man on the mark will be brought out to 10m from the top of the goalsquare, rather than the existing five metres.
3. Marks and free kicks in defence
When defenders mark or receive a free kick within nine metres of their own goal, the man on the mark will be brought in line with the top of the goalsquare.
4. Runners and water carriers
Team runners may only enter the playing surface after a goal has been kicked and must exit before play restarts.
Water carriers are not permitted to enter the playing surface during live play.
5. Umpire contact
Players will be prohibited from setting up behind the umpire at centre bounces.
6. 50m penalties
The player with the ball:
Must be allowed to advance the mark by 50m without the infringing player delaying the game.
Will be able to play on while the 50m penalty is being measured out.
7. Kicking for goal after the siren
A player who has been awarded a mark or free kick once play has ended:
Will now be able to kick across their body using a snap or check-side kick but must kick the ball directly in line with the man on the mark and the goal.
8. Marking contests
The ‘hands in the back’ rule interpretation has been repealed so a player can now:
Place his hands on the back of his opponent to protect his position in a marking contest provided he does not push his opponent in the back.
9. Ruck contests: prior opportunity
A ruckman who takes direct possession of the ball from a bounce, throw-up or boundary throw-in will no longer be regarded as having had prior opportunity.
Where there is uncertainty over who is the designated ruckman, the ruckman for each team will still be required to nominate to the field umpire.