Mac Andrew tackles Charlie Curnow during Gold Coast's clash against Carlton in round 11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

PLAYERS will be given less time to dispose of the ball after being tackled as the AFL seeks to address feedback from clubs and coaches on the adjudication of holding the ball. 

Coaches including Carlton's Michael Voss, Gold Coast's Damien Hardwick and Geelong's Chris Scott expressed their frustration at the way holding the ball was being assessed after the weekend's matches. 

In response, the AFL wrote to clubs on Tuesday to advise that umpires would effectively crack down on players "challenging the definition of reasonable time" to dispose of the ball once they were tackled. 

"It has become clearer throughout the season that  in discharging their duty of care whilst executing a tackle, tacklers are positively electing not to take tackled players to ground in the tackle or are generally doing so in a reasonable way including by not using excessive force," the AFL said in a statement on Wednesday morning. 

"As a consequence, we are seeing players hold onto the ball slightly longer and challenging the definition of “reasonable time”.

"Our umpires are clear on the interpretation of holding the ball and it continues to be a focus of umpire coaching each week. We want to ensure our Clubs, Coaches and Players understand the rules and how they are being officiated."

The response was largely positive from coaches who spoke on Wednesday, with Adelaide's Matthew Nicks saying it was "a minor adjustment". 

"It's an important one we don't make too big a deal of," Nicks told reporters.

"There's not a lot of change in it. We're going down the right path, it's player welfare that we're looking at.

"There may be a reaction and it might be overdone slightly in the first couple of games where it's a little sharper on holding the ball, but that's OK.

"We're not changing rules because we don't like the game, we're changing rules or adjusting parts of the game for player welfare ... we're doing it for the right reasons."

Bobby Hill tackles Will Hamill during Collingwood's clash with Adelaide in round 10, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Umpires attended Collingwood's training on Wednesday to help coach Craig McRae's team adjust to the fresh interpretation.

"They officiated like it would be officiated going forward ... we're aware of what is going on," McRae told reporters.

"I would love to reward the tackle more.

"That has always been a focus of our group, that we want to pressure well, so a few more rewards would be nice."

Hardwick, after the Suns' loss to Carlton, said the length of time taken to pay holding the ball free kicks was creating a "very, very dangerous situation".

The triple-premiership coach said umpires needed to "pay a free kick or blow the whistle".

"What I will say is 131 effective tackles today and there were four holding the balls for both sides," he said post-game.

"We've just got to get on top of this because the players certainly owe each other a duty of care, but as umpires we've got to blow the whistle earlier.

"Because the reality is they're putting players in a really compromising position that they could get hurt, and we don't want that.

"So we've got to look at it. We've got to coach it.

"I know it's incredibly hard, but from a player's health and wellbeing point of view, we've just got to make sure for the benefit of the game that we look after the players."


Voss said after that game he would follow up with the AFL while Geelong's flag-winning coach Scott added his voice to a chorus of concern.

"The players are in an incredibly difficult position at the moment," he told Fox Footy on Monday night.

“The tribunal have clearly said that if you pin the ball carrier’s arm ... (and a) head hits the ground, that’s a dangerous tackle.

"It’s a real coaching challenge at the moment."

Western Bulldogs forward Aaron Naughton suffered a knee injury in a tackle by Swans opponent Lewis Melican on Thursday night, where the tackle lingered before Melican pulled Naughton to ground and his knee twisted.