PLAYERS who show "insufficient intent" to keep the ball in play are running the risk of being penalised, says AFL Football Operations boss Simon Lethlean.
That was the main message to come from the AFL Laws of the Game Committee meeting on Thursday that discussed the contentious tightening of the deliberate out of bounds rule introduced in 2016.
There was no need to soften the interpretation, but there was a need to communicate how the rule was now being interpreted.
"The first discussion [about the rule] was it is actually insufficient intent to keep the ball in play rather than deliberate," Lethlean said.
"[Players] acknowledge there is a chance a free might be paid against them if they don't try to keep the ball in at all times."
Lethlean said the occasional error made during the first six rounds made it difficult to communicate that the rule was, in general terms, working effectively.
He said the AFL was taking a strong stance on the issue to ensure players made every effort to keep the ball in play.
"It's certainly a hardline stance that the players do everything they can to keep the ball in," Lethlean said.
However he conceded that the free kick paid last Friday night against Western Bulldogs' forward Jake Stringer was the incorrect decision, as it appeared to be a skill error rather than a decision to get the ball out of play.
"If players make a skill error, that should not be to their detriment," Lethlean said.
Lethlean said the AFL would monitor whether players were letting opposition kicks go out of bounds rather than trying to gain possession.
However, he said it was not yet regarded as a big issue.
"There is no obligation for players to keep the ball in if it is not in their possession, so there is no rule against it," Lethlean said.
"We'll keep an eye on that."
Fewer free kicks have been paid for deliberate out of bounds in the first six rounds this season than were paid in the first six rounds in 2016.
There have been 72 free kicks paid for deliberate out of bounds in 2017, which is 14 down on last season when 86 free kicks were paid for deliberate out of bounds.
The rule was tightened at the end of 2015, when just 22 free kicks were paid in the first six rounds for deliberate out of bounds.
Lethlean conceded there had been some teething problems in implementing the third man up ban on ruck contests, but players and coaches were beginning to become used to the new process.
"We know it is the most difficult sport in the world to officiate, most likely," Lethlean said.
"We would love to make our rules as black and white as possible, but there are some rules that require interpretation and require decision-making on the intent of players and they are the tough ones."
Listen to a bite-sized clip from AFL Exchange
In this extract from round seven's podcast, Essendon's James Kelly joins Matt Thompson and Peter Ryan to discuss whether it's time to bring in the 'last possession' rule.