The first round of AFL games in the
pre-season cup was played over the weekend and, contrary to the predictions of
doom surrounding the new rules governing the matches, it wasn’t the end of
football as we know it.

As Stephen Silvagni pointed out, it will
take weeks for players, coaches, and umpires to know how the new kick-in rule in
particular is going to affect the game. If the first round of the NAB Cup is
any guide, players and coaches may have been a little hysterical about it last
week.

While the new kick-in rule slipped into the
game almost unnoticed, the umpires were red hot on any interference with
players who had taken a mark, often awarding 50-metre penalties with
hair-trigger sensitivity, and that definitely was noticed by coaches.

In the official explanation of the new interpretations,
the AFL says umpires will show a “reduced tolerance for holding players up
after a mark or free kick.” The effect, they say, will be a more continuous
game, reduced time wasting, and a reduction in defensive flooding.

Rather melodramatically, Collingwood coach
Mick Malthouse said the game is in danger of becoming like netball if this new interpretation is applied too vigorously.

“We have got to have a contest, a physical
contest where the backline player is permitted to punch the ball clear and if
he takes the body with him so be it,” Malthouse said. “One hundred years of
football is being ignored.” Like the new kick-in rule, it’ll be weeks before
anyone, including Malthouse, knows if it works.

As far as the rest of the competition went,
the weekend’s losers (Essendon, Bulldogs, Swans, Richmond, Carlton, Port
Adelaide, St Kilda, Eagles) are “still on track for round one” and “happy with
their progress”, while the winners (Brisbane Lions, Melbourne, Kangaroos,
Hawthorn, Geelong, Adelaide, Collingwood, Fremantle) found the experience “invaluable”
and “got to have a good look at a few youngsters”. Hands up anyone who’s heard
that before.

Peter Fray

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