Brayden Maynard and Jack Viney clash during the qualifying final between Collingwood and Melbourne at the MCG on September 7, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

PLAYERS would have a greater duty of care to avoid high contact when attempting to smother opponents under a proposed AFL rule change in the fallout of Brayden Maynard's controversial Tribunal case during the 2023 finals series.

Maynard was sent direct to the AFL Tribunal after intervention from new football general manager Laura Kane after his bump that left Melbourne midfielder Angus Brayshaw concussed in the opening term of the clubs' qualifying final as Maynard jumped and attempted to smother Brayshaw's kick.

After a four-hour hearing, the Tribunal eventually cleared Maynard and he was a central player in Collingwood's premiership win.

However the AFL has acted after the incident, writing to clubs on Thursday with a series of proposed amendments to Tribunal guidelines as well as further rules and regulations. It comes on the back of a long consultative approach with the clubs, with feedback to come before final decisions are made at February's AFL Commission meeting. Any changes will be introduced ahead of the 2024 season.

The proposed change for smothers will be that when a player leaves the ground in an attempt to make a smother, the player "must take all reasonable steps to avoid making contact with their opponent's head and/or minimise the force of any high contact".


The suggested amendment to the Match Review Officer guidelines would see any high contact with an opponent that is at least low impact be deemed careless at a minimum, unless the player has taken all "reasonable steps" to avoid that high contact or reduce its force. The example used by the AFL in minimising the force of the high contract is to adopt a body position that does so, with the League clearly zeroing in on the smother change after the high profile Maynard-Brayshaw incident.

The League has also put a focus on run-down tackles as part of its rough conduct guidelines.

The AFL had been concerned with run-down tackles where the tackling player has contributed to the force with which the tackled player is driven into the ground and leaves the player with the ball in a susceptible position, with the proposed amendment giving greater regard to this facet. The League has stressed to clubs it is not pushing to take the run-down tackle from the game.

Nick Blakey is tackled by Dan Butler during the round 13 match between Sydney and St Kilda at the SCG on June 8, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

A number of other changes have been proposed for the Tribunal and MRO system, including an adjustment whereby if an offence is graded as severe impact, if only the minimum penalty is sought, then the MRO can prescribe a sanction and the player submit an early guilty plea without the case having to be referred directly to the Tribunal.

Similarly, a reduction of Tribunal cases is being sought by the League, with the cost per Tribunal hearing and appeal proposed to be raised from $10,000 to $13,000 in AFL cases and from $5000 to $6500 in AFLW cases as a deterrent for unnecessary cases.

The League is also seeking feedback from clubs on the substitute and the announcement of team selection, with clubs having until January 19 to formally give their views.

The AFL isn't anticipating changing the substitute rules, with the League comfortable with the current system of four players on the interchange bench and a substitute to be activated at any time, but has "welcomed feedback" from clubs on their thoughts.

Some clubs have been strong on changing the rule to simply have five players on the interchange bench instead of having to substitute out a player to activate the substitute. A final decision will come in the weeks before round one but, unless dramatic change gathers strong support from clubs, it is viewed as more unlikely than likely.

Harrison Petty is seen at the back of the bench after being subbed out of the match during round 21, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Furthermore, the League is looking at the best way for teams and squads to be announced given some confusion around the omission of substitutes under current provisions and how that process can be best communicated to fans.

A number of other proposed amendments were tabled to clubs on Thursday as part of the nine-page document from Kane and general counsel Stephen Meade, including:

  • The AFL has received feedback from umpires that they would prefer the option to "refer" incidents to the MRO rather than "report" players to ease pressure on real-time decisions. The League has proposed that umpires can do both.
  •  Removing the requirement that the potential to cause injury must be "serious" under the striking charge.
  • A clarification on the ranking of clubs during finals series to determine the 'home' and 'away' clubs for the AFL and AFLW Grand Finals.
  • Prohibiting club officials from whistling or making other such noises to communicate from the interchange that interrupt broadcast audio.