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How standing still got football moving again

It’s quicker. The ball stays in motion more. The long-held belief that high scoring was the panacea was not a theory I shared. And the Hawthorn-Richmond game last Sunday was a nod to the theory that the possibility of scoring is just as, if not more, tantalising than actually scoring. The final score was 7.7 (49) to 11.12 (78). Not a shootout but a gripping contest. The ball didn’t stop. There were 30 ball-ups and boundary throw-ins for the game (in the 2009 grand final there were 82). Ball in motion beats rolling mauls. Hawthorn also took 139 marks. Richmond of the past four years rarely allow more than 100, and if they do they generally lose. Another illustration the game this season is different.

It seems that different styles can win too. There is more space to go fast, but there is also more space to go slow. Teams who want to go through the corridor can do so without the spectre of the man on the mark cutting it off. And teams who want to build the ball up slowly are also free to do so because of the combination of the new rule and the larger protected area brought in a few years back. Think about last weekend’s Western Bulldogs-West Coast match. Two vastly different styles collided and it provided the game of the year so far.

The sight of players coming at the ball in the forward 50 rather than running away is a significant shift.

It has been mused that this new rule will suit the better kicks. Maybe, but I also think the opposite is true. The kick into the middle of the ground which was once the domain of only the elite by foot is now considerably easier and less talented players are taking it. This is the oil that has greased football’s engine.

To illustrate this; a strange example. Coaches had always complained to the umpiring department about why the umpire sets up in the middle of the ground on a 45 degree angle forward of the kicker. They ask this because it crowds the area where they’d ideally like to kick the ball. Over the course of round two, three umpires were hit by the ball in that exact position. I can only vaguely remember umpires being hit by the ball in previous years so three in one round suggests the ball is going through that area a hell of a lot more.

Bulldogs forward Josh Bruce kicked 10 goals against the Kangaroos.

Bulldogs forward Josh Bruce kicked 10 goals against the Kangaroos.Credit:Getty Images

The leading forward is back. Is this a change in tactics or is it because the ball is moving so fast that the forwards can’t get up the ground on defence as the coaches want them to? The sight of players coming at the ball in the forward 50 rather than running away is a significant shift.

So who is the saviour of football? Steve Hocking has to take the plaudits as the AFL’s general manager of football but the genesis of the idea seems to have been seeded over the past two years in consultation with clubs and looking at other sports. The competition committee and the umpiring department all played a role. Whoever it was, thank you.

Wayne Campbell is a former Richmond captain, AFL umpires boss and GWS head of football

Making footy great again, by the numbers

(2021 stats are before Round 3)

  • Stoppages (ball-ups and boundary throw-ins) per match are the lowest on average since 2007 (50.2 stoppages per game so far in 2021 compared with 70.2 in 2015)
  • The 282 marks taken in the West Coast v Gold Coast match in Round 1 was the 8th-highest game tally on record and the most since 2008
  • Teams are kicking longer (average of 59 long kicks per game is the second-highest since 2005)
  • Average of 51.9 tackles per game is the lowest since 2006.

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