Pre-Season: Can a limited numbers comp work for the AFL?

This weekend sees the unofficial kickoff to the NRL Season, the 3rd annual Auckland 9’s tournament. For those that don’t know, it’s an extension of sorts from the 7’s format that was popular in Rugby League circles in the 1990’s (and in Union provided Australia with a rare moment of joy in Rio last year, yes it was last year) complete with a number of rule changes to get the fans in such as bonus scoring zones and fewer tackles per set. It serves a purpose for those who are looking for early season form (if only to rule them out of main premiership contention, Parramatta won the tournament last year and showed as much as the Gold Coast Suns in the main season) or perhaps the new star that’s a Supercoach bargain.


It’s also got me thinking about the AFL pre-season and how perhaps a modified rules tournament could work in our favour. Yes we already have a 9-a-side version of the code but that’s more slanted towards the social and participation side of the game. But for the professional ranks, rather than have a full game to start the year, perhaps a 12’s tournament could work. What I come up with here would be my initial blueprint for the rules of the modified pre-season tournament, alterations or other suggestions most welcome.
TOURNAMENT FORMAT: 4 groups of 5 teams (each team plays 2 games on Friday and Saturday), top 2 teams progress to quarter finals. Extra teams to consist of 1 team of best under 18 players around the country and 1 team of international (non-Australian) players (this team may use any non Australian player not used by their club)


PLAYERS/COACHES: 20 player squads, 12 on the field at any stage, maximum of 4 interchange (unlimited). In each 20 man squad a MAXIMUM of 2 Supplementary List (Rookie List) players can be chosen. 1 other spot can be (but doesn’t have to be) used for a designated 12 a side player, which can’t be a current listed AFL player (e.g. recently retired player, celebrity, charity auction winner). Injury replacements not permitted once final squad submitted 30 minutes prior to first appearance in tournament. There will only be 3 coaches (senior coach and 2 assistants) permitted to have ground and dressing room access for the tournament, players who also fill assistant coaching roles will be counted as one of the coaches should he also be in the squad of 20. Maximum of 7 training staff (1 of which has to be a designated concussion tester and cannot fill any other role, much like the car controller at a pitstop in the Supercars series) permitted on the team sheet. Also NO GPS or Tracking systems allowed to be worn by players for the entire tournament.

Reduce the length of the field by 30 metres, with the 50 metre arc reverting to 40 metres. The width of the ground can be reduced by 10-15 metres.

2 x 15 minute halves with a 5 minute half time. Time on only for goals (from the time the goal umpire signals the goal until the game is restarted) and serious injury requiring stretcher attention, however should the injury occur within the last minute of a half the umpires can at their discretion signal for half time. If the scores are tied with 3 seconds to play the clock will stop until the deadlock is broken, then the final 3 seconds will be played.

Whilst I hate this concept in the 18 per side game a maximum of 6 players per side will be allowed between the 40m arcs at every centre restart (ball up).

NONE, last touch rule is applied. Boundary umpire to adjudicate whom it was last touched by.


SCORING: 9 Point Pre Season Cup rule will apply (outside 40 as opposed to outside 50). This will also be the tie breaker in the overall standings rather than percentage.


DISTANCE PENALTIES: 15 metre penalties will be applied rather than 50 metre penalties for the first offence. If there’s a subsequent breach a 50 metre penalty will be applied after the initial 15 metre penalty. For example if someone enters the protected zone and gives away 15, then if someone else gives the umpire too much lip the umpire will then go back a further 50.


SEND OFF RULE: A 5 minute Yellow Card Sin Bin can be applied for reportable offences or repeated infringements. The player can be replaced immediately but cannot return for a 5 minute period. The 5 minute time can only be applied according to the game clock, meaning that if someone is sent for 5 minutes with 3 minutes to go in the first half then that player cannot return until there are 13 minutes remaining in the game. If they are sent in the second half with for example 2 minutes remaining in the game, they cannot return to the ground until 3 minutes have elapsed in the next game they are selected in. A second offence in a game will see a player given a RED Card, and that player cannot be replaced for 5 minutes (i.e. the other team has a 1 player advantage for 5 minutes) nor can he return to the field for the remainder of the tournament.


UMPIRES: 3 field and 4 boundary umpires work in an interchange system where 2 of each are on the field at any one time. 2 goal umpires with NO Score Review System in place for this tournament.


All other rules are as per the most recent edition of the laws of the game, something that I personally will have to read up on. I’m sure other crazy rules could at least be trialed here before they inevitably get implemented into the main competition.


I don’t see myself as a visionary of any sort, in fact I’m half expecting people to see this as a satirical piece from someone who’s just waiting for the transition between seasons to elapse. But if it’s good enough for the 13 a side code to try something different to kick off their year, why not us?


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About Mick Jeffrey

39 Year Old, 16 year Bulldogs. over 280 combined senior/reserves appearances for Brothers AFC in AFL Capricornia. 26 time Marathon finisher, three time Ultra Marathon finisher and three time Comrades Marathon competitor (though not finisher yet).

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