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New umpire trial could help extend longevity

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FOUR field umpires will officiate every game in rounds 13 and 14 in a trial that could be adopted on a full-time basis next season.

Four field umpires were trialed in AFL games late in the 2015 home and away season and over the next two seasons were used over the three bye rounds. 

AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking announced on Tuesday this year's trial would deploy the umpires in a different structure, in a move he hoped could identify a way to extend the careers of the game's best officiators. 

"In the past what we've tended to do is put that extra set of eyes around where all the numbers are," Hocking said.

"(In this trial) there will actually be an officiating umpire within the forward 50 and the back 50 and there will be two central umpires as well.  

"The other extension of that is we've got really, really good umpires, we've got some elite decision-makers, and as their age profile changes are we able to keep them in the game? Can they become umpires that are able to run less but retain their experience in the game?

"We're going to collect a lot of data on the back of this. All the umpires will have GPS (monitors) and (we'll) see if that layout, that structure, across the ground decreases their load as well. 

"Does it also give us the ability to introduce younger umpires at either end of the ground? Potentially that might be one of the upsides to it and a bit of mentoring can go on with that." 

Hocking ruled out this year's trial being extended beyond round 14, but said the League would consider implementing four field umpires from next season. 

Hocking said umpires' total running loads had not changed significantly in past four-man trials, but they had done less high-intensity running. 

The AFL footy boss was not concerned having an umpire stationed in each forward 50 would lead to a spike in technical kicks, pointing out that there had no escalation in free kicks since the League's memo to clubs last month on defences illegally blocking in marking contests.