PLAYERS will have a greater duty of care to avoid high contact when attempting to smother opponents after an AFL rule change was confirmed on Tuesday, although a mid-season trade period won't be introduced this year.
The AFL today confirmed a handful of changes for the 2024 season, with a tweak to team announcements set to end confusion that arose in 2023 around the identity of a team's sub.
The change to the rules regarding smothers comes after the fallout to Collingwood defender Brayden Maynard's controversial Tribunal case during the 2023 finals.
Maynard was sent direct to the Tribunal after intervention from Executive General Manager Football Laura Kane after his bump that left Melbourne midfielder Angus Brayshaw concussed in the opening term of the clubs' qualifying final, with Maynard having 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.
FULL STATEMENT AFL ANNOUNCES 2024 RULE AMENDMENTS
However, as flagged by AFL.com.au in December, the AFL has acted after a Commission meeting on Monday, with the change for smothers meaning that when a player leaves the ground in an attempt to make a smother, the player's act will be deemed careless at a minimum "unless the player has taken all reasonable steps to avoid that high contact and/or minimise the force of that high contact (for example, by adopting a body position that minimises the force of the high contact)".
"We weren't comfortable with the outcome of the tribunal and the changes today are taking steps to change that," AFL football boss Laura Kane said after the changes were announced on Tuesday.
The rough conduct guidelines have also been tweaked to put a focus on run-down tackles.
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, leaving the player with the ball in a vulnerable position, with the proposed amendment giving greater regard to this facet (watch Dan Butler incident below, cited by the AFL as an example).
The League stressed to clubs late last year that it is not pushing to take the run-down tackle from the game.
The other rule changes announced today are:
- The sub rule will continue, but clubs will now name an extended bench of five players (an increase from four) and three emergency players. Each team's sub will then be confirmed 60 mins prior to the match
- The action of a player ruled to have committed a strike when intentionally shoving or fending an opponent will now be graded as Intentional rather than Careless (watch Charlie Ballard incident below, cited by the AFL as an example)
- Straight-arm blocks will be permitted in a ruck contest, provided the player contests the ball
- If an offence is graded as Severe impact by the Match Review Officer but only the minimum penalty is sought, 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
- The in-finals ranking system has been codified to determine the 'home' club for Grand Finals in both the AFL and AFLW. The winners of the Qualifying Finals will be ranked first and second, the losers of the Qualifying Finals ranked third and fourth (the higher of the two clubs on the premiership ladder will be third) and the winners of the Elimination Finals ranked fifth and sixth (the higher of the two clubs on the premiership ladder will be fifth)
- Whistling from the interchange bench is prohibited
As reported on AFL.com.au, a mid-season trade period won't take place in 2024, with next year appearing more likely.
Last year's Collective Bargaining Agreement between the AFL and AFL Players' Association saw both parties agree in principle to its introduction, but with Opening Round only a month away, it was deemed too soon to introduce the mechanism this year.
The change to announcing teams, with clubs to now name an extended bench of five players (instead of four) and confirm the sub on match day, should remove any confusion that arose when a player who was moved from the starting 22 to the sub role was previously listed as 'omitted'.
The number of Tribunal cases should be reduced, with the Match Review Officer now able to hand down a minimum sanction for incidents graded as Severe, instead of being required to send the player direct to the Tribunal.
"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," Kane said.
"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."