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COMMENT: The one thing rules trials must not affect

Gill 'thinking about' rule-change trials this season AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan says zoning and other significant rules might be tested in the latter rounds this year

THE AFL's idea to use games involving sides outside the top eight to trial new rules would certainly give extra attention to some dead rubbers later in the season.

The novelty factor of a bigger (or another?) goal square and the possible impact of starting positions around the ground or an altered interchange rotation cap would draw added interest to games that might otherwise lack it.

League chief executive Gill McLachlan confirmed on Wednesday that head office is considering trying out new rules later in the season in three games in consecutive rounds that won't have "any bearing on the (top) eight".

The energy and ideas brought by Steve Hocking and championed by McLachlan in a bid to improve the look of the game deserves credit and, of course, the finals shouldn't be affected by a series of trials.

CHANGE COMING  New rules likely to be trialled this season

But neither should another thing: the draft order.  

What happens if a team rises or falls a place or two in the draft based on their results in the trial games?

One team may be better placed to take on the rule trials this deep into the season compared to another, while others wouldn't even get a chance to see how they'd fare because only a select number of clubs would be used as the guinea pigs.

Any result from a game involving the potential rule changes – a big win, a heavy loss, a draw, whatever it is – will impact the order of picks at the end of the season. It shouldn't.

This year's draft pool features plenty of talent at the top end.

 

A change in the order courtesy of a win or loss in a game involving trialed rules could be the difference between getting midfielder Sam Walsh, key forward Jack Lukosius, exciting goalkicker Izak Rankine or on-ball gun Bailey Smith.

Is there a difference between one or the other? There is if a club is keen on a specific player.

The counter argument is that the trial rules may make no difference to how the game may have played out anyway, and it may not. But you could never know for sure.

The AFL has been intent on finding ways for clubs to play out the season, for every game to count. The integrity of the competition has also been a key message out of the League. Both of those will be questioned if a handful of games are played with other motives – such as seeing how the game could look in 2019 – in mind.

And what about the Brownlow Medal? Is it fair that a player could pick up votes in a game that is played under different rules and conditions to other games in the round and the season? Would betting agencies handle the games differently?

How about the Coleman Medal? If a game using trialed ruled involves a player near the top of the leaderboard are they more likely to kick a bag than another contender playing under normal rules?

Keep the trials for training sessions or lower levels. Or wait until next year's pre-season competition so all clubs can test them, see how they fare, and look to bring them into the game in 2020.

Or, if the regime is so keen on seeing it in action this year, then find a specific game that will not alter draft positions at all whatever the result is.

AFL legend Leigh Matthews described the concept of trialing rules mid-season as "demeaning to the game". It's a strong take that will resonate.