A low-key rule change that bans the man on the mark from moving is having a game-changing effect in pre-season trials, according to clubs and the AFL.
Players standing the mark are no longer allowed to move in any direction under the new rule, announced in November last year. The rule says players on the mark can no longer move sideways, but it goes further than that.
The defending player must hold their position, unable to step sideways or even backwards away from the mark, after the field umpire calls: “stand”. Any deviation will result in a 50-metre penalty.
Players will not be allowed to deviate off the mark under the new rule tweak.Credit:Getty Images
“It really opens up that diagonal kick into the corridor and stops you being pushed down the line as easily,” one coach said.
“You can exploit it in attack.”
There is also a new five-metre protected area around the player on the mark that even teammates are not allowed to enter.
Rule changes for 2021 premiership season
- Maximum of 75 player interchanges per match. Rotations will decrease from 90 per match in 2020 to 75 per match in 2021. Each team will continue to be permitted four interchange players.
- Player standing the mark. The defending player will only be permitted minimal lateral movement on the mark. If the defending player moves off the mark in any direction prior to “play on” being called, a 50-metre penalty will apply. The defensive team is unable to substitute the player on the mark.
- Location of the mark at kick-ins. The mark shall be set at 15 metres from the centre of the kick-off line towards the centre of the ground at kick-ins. This was previously set at 10 metres.
This means teams cannot “hand over” who is standing on the mark from one player to another. Often the man on the mark peels off to defend a player running past the player with the ball, and is replaced on the mark by a teammate. This can no longer happen.
It also means a tall player such as Collingwood’s Mason Cox cannot replace a teammate on the mark when their opponent is taking a set shot at goal.
The “stand” rule means the player on the mark defending a shot at goal cannot step back from the mark and run up to put a player off.
The rule change also means that teams defending an opposition player who has a set shot at goal and shapes to run around to snap the goal cannot set up with a line of defenders ready to rush at the forward once they step off their line. At the very least, they need to be five metres away from the man on the mark.
The “stand” rule has opened up the ground to the attacking team and in particular opened up the corridor for the ball-carrying team to be far more aggressive with their ball use.
“It is pretty significant,” one coach said. “It’s much harder to defend so you can be a lot more attacking with ball in hand.
“It’s a bigger change than the cut in rotations or the kick-in one [pulling the man on the mark back at kick-ins a further 10 metres].
Umpires will be encouraged to give more latitude to the player with the ball to move off their line before “play on” is called.
The AFL’s head of football, Steve Hocking, said the man on the mark was the first line of defence and teams structured their defence behind that player. Initial signs were that the change was having the desired effect, promoting faster, more attacking play.
“The man on the mark has been taking up more and more real estate and slowing the game down, directing where play could go,” Hocking said.
“The vision we have from pre-season testing of it with clubs, the ball is moving quicker and so teams are taking full advantage of the fact they know the player on the mark cannot move so it is really disrupting defences.
“Any defensive system around the world works off delay and that is what the man on the mark does, he delays.
“I hasten to add it is January, when teams are always more attacking in ball movement and they will no doubt go away and spend more time trying to work out how to defend it but they will also go away and work out how to exploit it for attack and ball movement.
“The signs are very encouraging, that ball movement is a lot quicker and more aggressive. We have wanted to shift the balance back from defence to attack.”
He said stopping teams from “handing over” the mark was a significant change.
“The player handing over always comes in from the side, but they never come in from the boundary side, they come in from the corridor. So their movement to come in is really closing off that whole angle into the corridor and pushing play down the line,” Hocking said.
According to clubs who have been training with umpires in match simulation, the change to the “man on the mark” rule is having the most profound effect on ball movement and congestion of all the rule changes.
This year the number of interchange rotations will be further cut and the man standing the mark at kick-ins has been drawn back a further 10 metres to give the defender more room to play on and clear the area with his kick. The extra distance that player can get also is hoped to push back and spread the set-up of the defensive team.
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