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The Top 10 Most Influential AFL Rule Changes

With Steve Hocking spearheading a number of new AFL rule changes this year, we thought that it would be best to compile a list of what we believe to be the most impactful changes in recent history.

10. Dangerous Tackle 

The need for the dangerous tackle rule came about in the 2010’s, but its recent change in interpretation was sparked by Shaun Burgoyne’s sling tackle on Patrick Dangerfield in 2020. This new change was influential as it completely changed the way players tackle, essentially outlawing them from pinning both arms as the ball-carrier will be unable to protect themselves. In response to this, some suggest that this is taking the physicality out of the game, shown only this week with Jack Steele being penalised for a strong tackle on Jacob Hopper.

9. Change in Rotations

The number of rotations has historically been very inconsistent in the AFL, with the amount of times players have been able to come off the interchange sling-shotting from as high as 120, to 90 and down to the low of 75 in 2021. In theory, the lower number of rotations is supposed to mean that teams don’t always have fresh legs and that fatigue can actually come into play during games. Whilst this may lead to less congestion and pressure particularly later in the game, its tendency to enable more injuries is one that will be surely explored throughout this season.

8. The Six-Six-Six

Introduced in the beginning of the 2020 season, this rule required that within each 50-metre arc and centre square there be six players from each team. This helped to counteract teams putting multiple players back after a goal, which was prominent late in games when trying to preserve a lead. Generally, the influence of this rule cannot be ignored as it is clearly visible at every restart of play and has arguably resulted in more of those exciting one-on-one marking contests.

7. Runner Restrictions

In response to calls of the game being too congested in 2018, the AFL implemented changes the next year to keep the runner off the field as much as possible, only affording them the time in between a goal and the restart of play (typically 40 seconds). In theory, this means there are less people on field and the players will play off instinct as opposed to game plan, hopefully illustrating more flair from the players. However, AFL coaches such as Beveridge and Fagan claimed that this limited their ability to impact the game from the coaches, leaving player without direction until a goal is scored.

6. Substitutes

As mentioned before the rules surrounding the interchange have always been very inconsistent, one only has to look to 2016 to remember when the red vest was abolished, increasing the number of players on the bench as a result. Yet, the AFL has seemingly backflipped on this past change and supplied a fifth player on the bench to be named the ‘medical substitute’, operating similarly to the red vest, but with more restrictions. Despite the ‘restrictions’, there has already been outcry concerning the utilisation of this player by coaches, prompting fans to call for the ‘unfit’ player substituted player to be excluded from playing the following week. Therefore, it would be unsurprising to see this rule tweaked as the 2021 season goes on as it is shaping up to be very pivotal to gaining an advantage as a coach.

5. Deliberate

One only has to mention the name Joel Bowden to Essendon fans and their blood will boil over his abuse of the lack of a deliberate rushed behind rule in 2008. Seeing this outrage, the AFL implemented such a rule in 2009, closely followed by the deliberate out of bounds in 2016. The first stopped defensive teams from milking the clock and avoiding pressure and the latter was aimed at reducing the number of ball ins and encouraging flowing footy with the ball in play. While they have given fans something else to yell for, their subjectivity in application leaves the umpire caving into the noise of affirmation, often resulting in goals and confusion as players grapple with what is considered legal.

4. Contact Below the Knees

Following Gary Rohan’s horror leg break in 2012 at Sydney, the AFL began to shift its focus towards protecting the player in the contest. In short, this new 2013 season rule discouraged players from sliding in recklessly by rewarding the player whose legs were taken out with a free kick. But this was not met with much love at the time. Both Nathan Buckley and Patrick Dangerfield came out saying how easily someone coming in late and falling over could abuse this rule, going onto say how it went against putting your head over the ball.

3. Goal-line Technology

With confusion plaguing goal umpires in games as important as Grand Finals (especially concerning Geelong), it was no shock to see goal-review technology come to the fore in 2012. This technology, primitive as it was at the time, sought to provide alternative angles and give umpires more time to make the right decisions on goals. More often than not, this process was lengthy and indecisive, allowing teams defending a behind to fully set up and prevent a counterattack. As a result, on 2019 the AFL gave this tech a makeover with the introduction of the AFL Review Centre (ARC) in the hopes of making quicker and better system, and whether or not that has been successful is certainly up for debate.

2. Third Man Up and Ruck Nomination

Prior to 2017 it was not uncommon to see two ruckmen locking horns and a third player soaring over the top for an easy hit out. However, considering the potential for injuries, impact on the recruitment and how it affected a unique feature of the game, it was decided only one nominated player from each team could contest in the ruck. By essentially banning non-ruckman from hit outs it took a skill out of each players toolkit and impacted stoppage strategy in a big way. While it was introduced to make the game easier to adjudicate for umpires, having to painstakingly nominate each ruckman for every stoppage in a loud stadium has undoubtedly enabled congestion due to its slowness.

1. Manning the Mark

In one of the newer changes to the game, the AFL has ruled that the player on the mark cannot move in any direction without ‘play on’ being called, essentially rendering them traffic cones. If the player on the mark doesn’t ‘stand’ they will get a 50-metre penalty paid against, and in tandem with the uninterrupted run rule introduced in 2020 this is a serious price to pay. Whilst incentivising playing on and preventing the substituting of the man on the mark are encouraging prospects, it is tough on the umpires and irrevocably changed the art of manning the mark. Overall, this change will be very hard for players to adapt to and will continue to play a heavy part in games well into the future, unless the AFL adjust the rule mid-season.



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