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League's 'watching brief' as scoring slumps

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Normally it's (scoring) up this time of the year ... so it will be interesting to see what it looks like over the next four to five weeks
AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking

ONLY four teams across the competition have improved their scoring rates this season from 2017 as the AFL continues to monitor how the game is being played.

Over the 54 matches played so far this season, the average total score per game is 169 points, down from 186 last season and 185 in 2016.

The large majority of clubs have contributed to that decrease, with only Fremantle (73 points last year to 83 in 2018), Hawthorn (84 to 97), Richmond (91 to 105) and West Coast (87 to 101) scoring more than a year ago. Three of those four sides - Richmond (first), West Coast (second) and Hawthorn (fourth) - sit inside the top four on the ladder.

It leaves 14 teams who have regressed with their scoring this season in the first six rounds, with the struggling Saints having the biggest dip so far, going from an average of 87 points last year to just 64 this season.

Speaking last week, AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking said the league is keeping across the lower scores, and said it was unusual for this stage of the season.

"Normally it's (scoring) up this time of the year ... so it will be interesting to see what it looks like over the next four to five weeks and how that plays out," he said.

"Teams settle into a pattern of play and an understanding across the competition of how teams are playing (which) generally leads to even lower scoring. That's a watching brief as far as we go."

As debate rages about the state of the game after some low-scoring and congested affairs in recent weeks, Hocking said clashes that lacked free-flowing football were not ideal.

"My role and the team's role is to understand what are the levers we need to pull to make sure the game's in good health in three, five, 10 years' time," he said.

While goalkicking problems continue to plague players around the competition, the general skill level of games has also been the subject of criticism in recent days.

Hocking, who was previously the head of football at Geelong, said players naturally adjusted to the pressure of games as the season wore on and expected skills to improve accordingly.

"The pressure around the ball is far greater than it's ever been. The level of application of that pressure from players, the fitness of players, it all plays into that," he said.

"And so as the game starts to adapt, the players then adapt to that pressure, and we see that over the year players will start to execute to a high level.

"Because you can't replicate that at training, as much as they train to a certain degree, you're training against your teammates. Whereas during a game, the pressure level is extraordinary."

*Statistics supplied by AFL statistician Cameron Sinclair