Infotainment Factory: AFL boss unsure of new rule impact

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Thursday, 14 March 2019

AFL boss unsure of new rule impact


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Steve Hocking is the AFL's poacher-turned-game changer.

When he jumped from clubland to league headquarters two years ago, the former Geelong football boss had the mandate to look hard at how the game was played.

As the AFL's football boss, he oversaw the creation of the competition committee and, in turn, nine rule changes for this season which were designed to open up the game.

In his own words, those change left the coaches feeling "a bit nude".

Steve Hocking and Gillon McLachlan

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge led the initial blowback with his vocal criticism of the clamp down on runners.

Hocking is far from surprised at the disquiet among the coaches, while also saying repeatedly that those changes are based on extensive research and constant consultation with the clubs.

But even he cannot say for sure what the rule changes will mean for the game by the end of the season.

"I don't think any of us can sit here and say 'we know what that's going to look like'," he said.

"The coaches certainly won't know."

Hocking thinks the usual rhythm of the season - clubs bursting out of the blocks, a holding pattern mid-season and a late burst to the finals - could even change, given the AFL's efforts to make the game more open.

What he knows for sure is that the coaches are working feverishly on working out how to exploit the changes.

It is the latest chapter in the arms race between the AFL and the coaches.

"If you put something in front of this industry, it chases it down better than most industries that I've seen," Hocking said.

"We've set up a team to make sure we stay ahead of the game and I think that's a really good position for headquarters to be in."

It's not just on the field where uncertainty over the last few weeks has led to disquiet.

For all the good intentions, the AFL has never done a good job of selling the illicit drugs policy.

Perhaps inevitably, there's been another round of pre-season headlines and debate about whether players are rorting the system.

But who would know, given testing numbers are no longer made public.

Chief executive Gillon McLachlan's salary is also apparently no longer public information.

It begs the question - what else is the AFL not telling us?

But enough of the cynicism. This time of year is all about the most beautiful four-letter word in the game - hope.

A year ago, most pundits did not have had reigning premiers West Coast in their top eight and Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley apparently was about to walk the plank.

Can Melbourne build on their two drought-breaking finals wins? What will Tom Lynch's arrival mean to the Richmond mean machine, smarting from its jarring preliminary final loss?

Has the premiership window closed for GWS and Geelong? What can Hawthorn do without Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell?

Are Adelaide poised to rebound immediately from their post-2017 grand final debacle? Is the hype around Essendon justified, given they have not won a final in 14 years? Who would dare bet against Sydney, given their top-eight consistency?

At the other end of the ladder, Carlton, St Kilda and Gold Coast are apparently bottom-four locks.

There's an extra element to where the Blues finish, given their stunning draft-night deal with Adelaide last November that gave the Crows their 2019 top draft pick in return for recruiting Liam Stocker.

It effectively means if Adelaide win the flag and the Blues finish last, the Crows will go into this year's draft with the No.1 pick.

But as one Carlton official noted quietly on draft night, if they finish bottom again they will have a lot more to worry about than whether the Crows deal was worth it.

It's shaping as that sort of season.

Who knows what will happen?

Steve Hocking is the AFL's poacher-turned-game changer.

When he jumped from clubland to league headquarters two years ago, the former Geelong football boss had the mandate to look hard at how the game was played.

As the AFL's football boss, he oversaw the creation of the competition committee and, in turn, nine rule changes for this season which were designed to open up the game.

In his own words, those change left the coaches feeling "a bit nude".

Steve Hocking and Gillon McLachlan

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge led the initial blowback with his vocal criticism of the clamp down on runners.

Hocking is far from surprised at the disquiet among the coaches, while also saying repeatedly that those changes are based on extensive research and constant consultation with the clubs.

But even he cannot say for sure what the rule changes will mean for the game by the end of the season.

"I don't think any of us can sit here and say 'we know what that's going to look like'," he said.

"The coaches certainly won't know."

Hocking thinks the usual rhythm of the season - clubs bursting out of the blocks, a holding pattern mid-season and a late burst to the finals - could even change, given the AFL's efforts to make the game more open.

What he knows for sure is that the coaches are working feverishly on working out how to exploit the changes.

It is the latest chapter in the arms race between the AFL and the coaches.

"If you put something in front of this industry, it chases it down better than most industries that I've seen," Hocking said.

"We've set up a team to make sure we stay ahead of the game and I think that's a really good position for headquarters to be in."

It's not just on the field where uncertainty over the last few weeks has led to disquiet.

For all the good intentions, the AFL has never done a good job of selling the illicit drugs policy.

Perhaps inevitably, there's been another round of pre-season headlines and debate about whether players are rorting the system.

But who would know, given testing numbers are no longer made public.

Chief executive Gillon McLachlan's salary is also apparently no longer public information.

It begs the question - what else is the AFL not telling us?

But enough of the cynicism. This time of year is all about the most beautiful four-letter word in the game - hope.

A year ago, most pundits did not have had reigning premiers West Coast in their top eight and Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley apparently was about to walk the plank.

Can Melbourne build on their two drought-breaking finals wins? What will Tom Lynch's arrival mean to the Richmond mean machine, smarting from its jarring preliminary final loss?

Has the premiership window closed for GWS and Geelong? What can Hawthorn do without Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell?

Are Adelaide poised to rebound immediately from their post-2017 grand final debacle? Is the hype around Essendon justified, given they have not won a final in 14 years? Who would dare bet against Sydney, given their top-eight consistency?

At the other end of the ladder, Carlton, St Kilda and Gold Coast are apparently bottom-four locks.

There's an extra element to where the Blues finish, given their stunning draft-night deal with Adelaide last November that gave the Crows their 2019 top draft pick in return for recruiting Liam Stocker.

It effectively means if Adelaide win the flag and the Blues finish last, the Crows will go into this year's draft with the No.1 pick.

But as one Carlton official noted quietly on draft night, if they finish bottom again they will have a lot more to worry about than whether the Crows deal was worth it.

It's shaping as that sort of season.

Who knows what will happen?

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