ST KILDA trialled rule changes at its Thursday training session but coach Alan Richardson is wary about them being implemented in a game this season, fearing a match for four points could become an "exhibition".
The AFL is determined to reduce congestion and in a scratch match consisting of 10-minute halves, the 6-6-6 formation at centre bounces was implemented, the length of the goalsquares was doubled to 18m, there was no prior opportunity (with ball-ups instead of frees conceded) and the ball was thrown up quicker.
Perhaps most intriguingly, a line was painted horizontally across the middle of the ground. When there was a stoppage in a team's defensive-50, it needed two players in the forward half of the ground.
"Given that there were so many stoppages and so many ball-ups because there was no prior opportunity, and the way that was adjudicated was to be a ball-up, there was a lot of ball-ups," Richardson said.
"Then, when the umpires were really committed to throwing the ball up quickly, players just couldn't clear the area, so I think there'll be a lot that the AFL get out of that in terms of perhaps what not to do as opposed to, 'Yeah, that's a good look for us'."
AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has raised the prospect of rules being trialled this year in matches that won't impact the finals race.
The Saints face the Western Bulldogs in round 20, with both teams unable to make the top-eight, but Richardson warned changing the rules for that contest.
"That would worry me, that the Saints … (and Bulldogs) just going out to play an exhibition game," Richardson said.
"We'd do whatever we could to try to alleviate that sense for our fans and for our players. That would be something that I feel uncomfortable about."
AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking was at RSEA Park to watch the training session.
Richardson acknowledged the logic behind some matches mattering less than others if there were no consequences on finals, but did not agree.
"It's incredibly naïve to think they're not important games for a young bloke who hasn't played a game of AFL footy, a person who's uncontracted who's looking to cement his position on a list, for a footy club who hasn't had a strong year that needs to finish off strongly," Richardson said.
He wants to see more trials, potentially in the state leagues first in 2019, and recommended the AFL continue researching.
For example, throwing the ball up quicker meant less time for players to return to the area of the ground in which they were required to be at stoppages.
"That's good information and that's why trials are so important, because I wouldn't have thought that achieved what they were after today," Richardson said.