The Roar
The Roar


Smothers in the firing line as AFL brings down new rules to stamp out high contact ... and whistling?

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6th February, 2024

The AFL insists it can improve the on-field product and make the game safer at the same time after rubber-stamping rules around smothers.

The league has ticked off on a raft of changes for the upcoming season following a meeting of the AFL Commission on Monday, held at Collingwood’s AIA Centre.

The lead item was amending the smother rule, first floated in December after Collingwood vice-captain Brayden Maynard’s infamous tribunal case during last year’s finals.

After a marathon four-hour hearing, the Magpies defender was not suspended despite Melbourne midfielder Angus Brayshaw suffering a season-ending concussion in the smothering incident with Maynard.

The AFL has tweaked the rule so when a player elects to leave the ground in an attempt to smother, any high contact with an opponent that is graded as low impact will be deemed to be careless in the guidelines.

Angus Brayshaw was knocked unconscious in a collision with Brayden Maynard.

Angus Brayshaw was knocked unconscious in a collision with Brayden Maynard. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

It comes as the AFL is dealing with an ongoing class action from dozens of former players against the league relating to concussion.

Last week, a minimum 21-day break between a concussion and the resumption of competitive contact or collision sport was announced for grassroots sport in Australia.


“We want to make the game safer, we want to make the game better and we’ve seen over the past couple of years an evolution of the on-field product,” AFL football boss Laura Kane said after the changes were announced on Tuesday.

“The game is as good as it’s ever been. It’s a spectacle. It’s exciting, it’s fast.

“But at the same time we’ve made over 30 changes to the rules and the regulations to make it safer. 

“So we can do both at once and our responsibility, the cascade effect to community football is most certainly not lost on us.”

Just as she said last year following Maynard’s tribunal case, Kane reiterated she was not “comfortable with the outcome”.

“We weren’t comfortable with the outcome of the tribunal and the changes today are taking steps to change that,” she added.


The AFL also confirmed the sub is here to stay “for now” but clubs will be allowed to name five players on the interchange. Clubs and coaches were frustrated last year when they were forced to “omit” a player from the previous week’s team because they intended to make them the sub.

There will also be a change in interpretation to allow straight arm blocks in a ruck contest, provided the player still contests the ball.

The most curious change was a ban on coaches whistling from the interchange bench, saying it “interrupts the audio of match broadcasts”.

“Whistling is not something that I want to see on the sideline,” Kane said.

“For our umpires, our broadcasters and everyone on the bench, whistling won’t feature as part of our game moving forward.”