Infotainment Factory: Why Richmond is still the AFL's team to beat

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Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Why Richmond is still the AFL's team to beat


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With the JLT Community Series well and truly in the books, it is time to look towards the start of the home and away season.

While the win-loss record of teams may not ultimately matter a great deal, there were still several lessons to take out of this year’s tournament.

Last year’s premiers, the West Coast Eagles, looked as ominous as ever in their two comprehensive wins, while a team who finished on the opposite end of the ladder, Carlton, also showed promising signs.

Of course, the JLT Series also allowed fans to have a first look at the AFL’s rule changes that have been implemented into the game with the hope of a more exciting product.

With the AFL’s pre-season in the rear-view mirror, here’s 10 things we learned from the 2019 JLT Community Series:

Richmond should be the premiership favourite

This perhaps isn’t necessarily something we learnt from the JLT series, but rather something that was reinforced through the competition.

After winning the premiership in 2017 and being the league’s best side last season before its shock preliminary final defeat to Collingwood, the Tigers are hungrier than ever. The prelim loss to the Magpies might serve as a blessing in disguise for a list that now comes into the season with a massive chip on its shoulder.

However, after suffocating opponents for the best part of 24 months, the Tigers showed a different side to their game in their two JLT contests.

The Tigers came back from a 22-point quarter-time deficit in JLT 1 against the Demons before running down a 40-point half-time deficit in JLT 2 against Hawthorn.

Trent Cotchin celebrates

More impressive than the two comebacks themselves were the manner in which they were made.

Despite being well off their game in the first half against Hawthorn, the Tigers never looked to be panicked at any point in the game.

Club captain Trent Cotchin was asked about his side’s first half against the Hawks and was extremely calm and suggested that the team would “chip away” at the deficit which it did emphatically, led by Cotchin himself who was exemplary with 24 disposals and two final quarter goals.

The scary part for opponents? The Tigers get to add Tom Lynch to what is an impressive forward set-up with the likes of Jack Riewoldt, Jack Higgins, Josh Caddy and Dan Butler to name a few.

The AFL’s new rules are working as the league intended

As we touched on in the first point of this piece, after scoring across the league came to a relative standstill in 2018, the AFL reacted by looking to open up the field to encourage scoring and to increase the pace of the game in general.

Judging from the results of the two JLT rounds, the rules have been a success in that regard. Not only has scoring increased, scoring directly from centre bounces have increased.

Additionally, the starting formations have resulted in less secondary stoppages at centre bounces, with the secondary stoppage rate dropping from 11 percent in 2018 to 8 percent in the JLT Series, while stoppages in general reduced by two per game from 2018.

A look at the last three premiership teams shows incredible high-pressure forward units that were able to lock balls into their forward line after an opposing kick-in. With players being able to play on directly from the square and the man on the mark brought back by five metres, it has resulted in teams posing a greater threat of breaking out of defensive zones.

The Blues will be making their way up the ladder

While they failed to win their final game against Collingwood, Carlton were a straight Sam Walsh kick away from going 2-0 in the JLT Series. With the caveat that pre-season wins ultimately count for zero premiership points, it is worth noting that Carlton looked significantly better than when we last saw them in 2018.

The Blues like many teams across the league will be assisted by the rule changes opening up the field for them and it was evident in the two JLT scores they posted. Carlton finished 17th in the league in scoring with an average of 61.5 points per game last season but managed to cross the century mark in its first game of 2019 against Essendon in JLT1.

Patrick Cripps

The fate of the Blues’ season will rest on the broad shoulders of Patrick Cripps, but he will receive welcome assistance in the engine room in the form of No.1 pick Sam Walsh and GWS Giants recruit Will Setterfield. Carlton finished 2018 ranked dead last in points from clearances with just 20.4 per game, but will almost certainly see that number rise due to the rule changes.

Despite the positive signs, Carlton is still years away from a premiership tilt. According to Champion Data the team’s list is ranked 16th in the league. However, after the darkness that was 2018, fans will enjoy a few more wins.

The starting 6-6-6 formations will help elite midfielders

The AFL’s reason for introducing 6-6-6 formation was to unclog the midfield congestion to allow for higher scoring games and it worked a charm in the JLT Series. The average score per game across the league increased from 83 points in 2018 to 89 points per game in the two rounds.

Forcing teams to start with six players inside the offensive and defensive 50m arcs means that there is more space for the game’s truly great midfielders to work in, and as a result we saw some high possession tallies from some of the game’s most prolific ball-winners.

Additionally, the starting positions also make the end of tight games extremely exciting. In the past, if teams were holding onto a lead, they would flood the defensive 50 with an extra man or two at the centre bounce to stop a clean entry from the opposing midfield. In the Tigers’ comeback win over Hawthorn in JLT 2, the Hawks were unable to flood the defensive 50 in the final 10 minutes, resulting in Tigers skipper Trent Cotchin tearing the game apart with two goals in a matter of minutes.

Ultimately, the rule gives the best players more space to work in and this will result in a better spectacle for fans.

Hawthorn is set for a transitional year

We need to start this point by realising that Hawks mastercoach Alastair Clarkson could totally make this blow up in our face.

The Hawks have had an incredible run, arguably the best run of any team in the league for the last decade, but the team looked a shell of the side that has won four premierships in the last 11 years as it was dispatched out of last year’s finals in straight sets.

Hawthorn comes into the year with the league’s oldest list with an average age of 24 years and 330 days. Mainstays from the premiership sides such as Jarryd Roughead, Shaun Burgoyne and Grant Birchall are going to be hard to rely on week in, week out, even if they are still able to provide bursts (as evidenced by Roughead’s five goals in JLT 2).

The big loss for the Hawks goes without saying and that is the loss of Tom Mitchell.

The big benefit for the Hawks may be that like the situation with Gaff and Sheed, the absence of Mitchell is going to allow for some unheralded kids to get major midfield time.

James Worpel

One of the names that could spend regular time in the Hawks engine room is James Worpel.

The man affectionately known as the ‘Worpedo’ played 11 games in his debut season and averaged 17.6 possessions per game.

After being at the top of the ladder for so many years, the Hawks have not had the ability to access high-level talent in the draft, but the club has done well to hit on the likes of Worpel, who was a pick 45 in the 2017 draft.

Worpel finished with 18 touches in JLT 1 and 24 in JLT 2 and was ably assisted by another unheralded name that Hawks fans might want to get familiar with in James Cousins.

Cousins, who is in his third year at the club, has played just seven games over his first two seasons, but was a prolific ball-winner in the side’s two JLT clashes, finishing with 29 and 21 disposals in the two games.

Much of Hawthorn’s success is entirely dependent on health, not including the injury to Mitchell.

With the Brownlow Medallist watching from the sidelines, will the likes of Jaeger O’Meara, Chad Wingard and Tom Scully be able to get enough game time in 2019 to make a difference?

The Brisbane Lions are on the path to becoming feared

After being arguably the most feared AFL team in the history of the league at the turn of the century, the Brisbane Lions have been dormant for the best part of the last decade.

If the JLT results are anything to go by, the Lions are well on the path towards being a feared AFL team once again.

Brisbane trounced Hawthorn in JLT 1 with a 42-point win before scraping to a seven-point win over Melbourne in JLT 2. The club’s big recruit of the off-season, former Dockers star Lachie Neale, begun his Lions career with aplomb, leading all players with 31 touches in the side’s JLT 1 win before finishing with 28 against the Demons.

According to Champion Data, Neale is one of four ‘elite’ players on the Lions list alongside Harris Andrews, skipper Dayne Zorko and Daniel Rich, and is sure to help the Lions climb up the ladder. The club’s ‘elite’ level players are well-supported with the likes of Charlie Cameron and Stefan Martin providing more class around the ground.

Lachie Neale

The Lions also picked up what might prove to be one of the league’s more underrated acquisitions in former Gold Coast Sun Jarryd Lyons.

Lyons starred in JLT 2 finishing with 26 touches to go along with four goals to go along with his 26 touches against Hawthorn in JLT 1.

Since Chris Fagan took over in 2016, the Lions haven’t necessarily increased their win totals dramatically, but the side’s percentage has risen by 28 percent in the space of two seasons, a drastic increase.

The Lions were a lot better than their 5-17 record in 2018, losing five matches by under seven points. Neale’s class should allow them to fare better in close matches.

Brisbane’s trajectory is interestingly similar to the Demons’ after Paul Roos took over the job in 2013. Melbourne’s percentage went from 54 in 2013 to 76 percent two seasons later, a similar rise to Brisbane’s.

The Demons are now one of the league’s most potent attacking teams, boasting a percentage of 131.45 in last year’s 14-win season.

Don’t be surprised if the Lions make a similar leap in coming years.

Dom Sheed is ready to take the superstar leap

If we’re going to talk about blessings in disguise, there is perhaps none bigger across the league than Andrew Gaff’s suspension for West Coast’s Grand Final hero Dom Sheed.

After being dropped twice during the Eagles’ home and away season last year, Sheed exploded to life in the absence of Gaff, averaging 28 disposals and 18 uncontested possessions per game from Round 19 onwards.

In the six matches the Eagles played sans Gaff, Sheed emulated the star left-footers output, averaging near-identical numbers to Gaff. Sheed even topped Gaff in contested possessions, clearances, intercept possesions and goals per game.

Sheed’s 22.9 disposals and 4.3 clearances per game were both career-highs in 2018, but there were reservations regarding whether Gaff’s return would see him fade into the background once again.

Dom Sheed

However, the 23-year-old emphatically dismissed all reservations by being the Eagles’ best midfielder in the two JLT wins.

In an ominous sign for the rest of the league, the Eagles looked perhaps the most fluent in the pre-season competition, and Sheed was at the forefront of it averaging 39.5 disposals per game across the two weeks.

Sheed led the Eagles in metres gained in both weeks with 593 in JLT 1 against Geelong and a whopping 623 in JLT 2 against Fremantle.

The new rules will once again benefit Sheed, who will now not only have more space to work in, but less attention from defensive units given the return of Gaff.

The 50m penalty is going to be a game-changer

It’s the rule that captured the conversation during JLT 2. Players are now able to play on directly from a 50m penalty, which has taken the advantage away from defensive teams that used to use the time taken by the umpire to mark out the 50m to flood the defensive side of the ball.

JLT 2 saw several teams give up virtual 100m penalties as players seemed confused by the rule, with three notably coming in North Melbourne’s clash against Port Adelaide.

It will be interesting to see how teams counter the new rule, if it is enforced the way it was during the Kangaroos-Power game. As pointed out by AFL great Gerard Healy while on commentary, teams may opt to give the duty of manning the mark to a player who is already in its defensive 50m arc as opposed to the player that was originally on the mark, to avoid potentially giving up a 100m penalty.

The Bombers have a lot of work to do before Round 1

Following their acquisition of former GWS Giants star Dylan Shiel, Essendon became the sexy pick as the team to climb up the ladder. The reason fans were high on the Bombers wasn’t solely due to the season either, with the side coming home strong to finish 2018.

However, after finishing the pre-season 0-2 and struggling to really dominate opponents, the Bombers will need to get back to the drawing board ahead of what looms as a monumental round one clash against the Giants.

The Bombers have looked to sure up their defence, bringing over defensive coach Ben Rutten from Richmond, but the side’s defence proved leaky to say the least, conceding in excess of 100 in each of the two JLT contests.

Bombers skipper Dyson Heppell has preached for fans to be patient as the side gets accustomed to Rutton’s defensive schemes.

Dyson Heppell

“It’s all new and new things do take time to really delve in,” Heppell told SEN radio on Tuesday.

“We’ve improved a hell of a lot since it was implemented early days in the pre-season and honestly it’s not too different to what we were doing, just a couple of tweaks, but that will take time to learn and really sink into the group.

It will also be interesting to see how the new rules affect the defensive side of Essendon’s game.

While the team will no doubt be helped on the offensive side of the ball, Essendon made its run from Rounds 8-23 last season on the back of locking the ball inside its forward half of the ground.

The Bombers ranked 6th in the league for forward half intercepts with 26.0 up from 20.4 (17th) in the first seven rounds. Additionally, Essendon led the league in pressure factor with 186, led by the league’s leading tackler Devon Smith.

With the new rules opening up the ground more, the Bombers will have to be wary of teams hurting them with blistering counter-attacks and isolating their defence, which will start the season undermanned in the absence of Cale Hooker.

The rule regarding runners will polarise all season long

Out of all of the AFL’s new rules, the one regarding the runners has certainly been one of the most polarising. Runners are now only permitted to be on the ground after goals, limiting the amount of messages that coaches can get out to their playing group.

Players who have grown up with the benefit of runners throughout their careers are already slightly lost without the constant direction from the coaching staff, while coaches themselves are feeling slightly handicapped.

Essendon star Dylan Shiel, Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge, St Kilda coach Alan Richardson and Brisbane veteran Luke Hodge have all called for the AFL to loosen its restrictions on the runners.

While there was a chorus of voices against the rule, Essendon great Matthew Lloyd backed the restriction.

Dylan Shiel

“For the control the coaches have lost, we’re going to have a much better game for it,” Lloyd told Sportsday.

“I think the instinct has been lost on players.

“I know in my last couple of years of playing my mind was on where the coach wanted me to stand, or where do I need to be now.

“I lost everything I had as a player because I had the life coached out of me.”

Let the debates rage on.

With the JLT Community Series well and truly in the books, it is time to look towards the start of the home and away season.

While the win-loss record of teams may not ultimately matter a great deal, there were still several lessons to take out of this year’s tournament.

Last year’s premiers, the West Coast Eagles, looked as ominous as ever in their two comprehensive wins, while a team who finished on the opposite end of the ladder, Carlton, also showed promising signs.

Of course, the JLT Series also allowed fans to have a first look at the AFL’s rule changes that have been implemented into the game with the hope of a more exciting product.

With the AFL’s pre-season in the rear-view mirror, here’s 10 things we learned from the 2019 JLT Community Series:

Richmond should be the premiership favourite

This perhaps isn’t necessarily something we learnt from the JLT series, but rather something that was reinforced through the competition.

After winning the premiership in 2017 and being the league’s best side last season before its shock preliminary final defeat to Collingwood, the Tigers are hungrier than ever. The prelim loss to the Magpies might serve as a blessing in disguise for a list that now comes into the season with a massive chip on its shoulder.

However, after suffocating opponents for the best part of 24 months, the Tigers showed a different side to their game in their two JLT contests.

The Tigers came back from a 22-point quarter-time deficit in JLT 1 against the Demons before running down a 40-point half-time deficit in JLT 2 against Hawthorn.

Trent Cotchin celebrates

More impressive than the two comebacks themselves were the manner in which they were made.

Despite being well off their game in the first half against Hawthorn, the Tigers never looked to be panicked at any point in the game.

Club captain Trent Cotchin was asked about his side’s first half against the Hawks and was extremely calm and suggested that the team would “chip away” at the deficit which it did emphatically, led by Cotchin himself who was exemplary with 24 disposals and two final quarter goals.

The scary part for opponents? The Tigers get to add Tom Lynch to what is an impressive forward set-up with the likes of Jack Riewoldt, Jack Higgins, Josh Caddy and Dan Butler to name a few.

The AFL’s new rules are working as the league intended

As we touched on in the first point of this piece, after scoring across the league came to a relative standstill in 2018, the AFL reacted by looking to open up the field to encourage scoring and to increase the pace of the game in general.

Judging from the results of the two JLT rounds, the rules have been a success in that regard. Not only has scoring increased, scoring directly from centre bounces have increased.

Additionally, the starting formations have resulted in less secondary stoppages at centre bounces, with the secondary stoppage rate dropping from 11 percent in 2018 to 8 percent in the JLT Series, while stoppages in general reduced by two per game from 2018.

A look at the last three premiership teams shows incredible high-pressure forward units that were able to lock balls into their forward line after an opposing kick-in. With players being able to play on directly from the square and the man on the mark brought back by five metres, it has resulted in teams posing a greater threat of breaking out of defensive zones.

The Blues will be making their way up the ladder

While they failed to win their final game against Collingwood, Carlton were a straight Sam Walsh kick away from going 2-0 in the JLT Series. With the caveat that pre-season wins ultimately count for zero premiership points, it is worth noting that Carlton looked significantly better than when we last saw them in 2018.

The Blues like many teams across the league will be assisted by the rule changes opening up the field for them and it was evident in the two JLT scores they posted. Carlton finished 17th in the league in scoring with an average of 61.5 points per game last season but managed to cross the century mark in its first game of 2019 against Essendon in JLT1.

Patrick Cripps

The fate of the Blues’ season will rest on the broad shoulders of Patrick Cripps, but he will receive welcome assistance in the engine room in the form of No.1 pick Sam Walsh and GWS Giants recruit Will Setterfield. Carlton finished 2018 ranked dead last in points from clearances with just 20.4 per game, but will almost certainly see that number rise due to the rule changes.

Despite the positive signs, Carlton is still years away from a premiership tilt. According to Champion Data the team’s list is ranked 16th in the league. However, after the darkness that was 2018, fans will enjoy a few more wins.

The starting 6-6-6 formations will help elite midfielders

The AFL’s reason for introducing 6-6-6 formation was to unclog the midfield congestion to allow for higher scoring games and it worked a charm in the JLT Series. The average score per game across the league increased from 83 points in 2018 to 89 points per game in the two rounds.

Forcing teams to start with six players inside the offensive and defensive 50m arcs means that there is more space for the game’s truly great midfielders to work in, and as a result we saw some high possession tallies from some of the game’s most prolific ball-winners.

Additionally, the starting positions also make the end of tight games extremely exciting. In the past, if teams were holding onto a lead, they would flood the defensive 50 with an extra man or two at the centre bounce to stop a clean entry from the opposing midfield. In the Tigers’ comeback win over Hawthorn in JLT 2, the Hawks were unable to flood the defensive 50 in the final 10 minutes, resulting in Tigers skipper Trent Cotchin tearing the game apart with two goals in a matter of minutes.

Ultimately, the rule gives the best players more space to work in and this will result in a better spectacle for fans.

Hawthorn is set for a transitional year

We need to start this point by realising that Hawks mastercoach Alastair Clarkson could totally make this blow up in our face.

The Hawks have had an incredible run, arguably the best run of any team in the league for the last decade, but the team looked a shell of the side that has won four premierships in the last 11 years as it was dispatched out of last year’s finals in straight sets.

Hawthorn comes into the year with the league’s oldest list with an average age of 24 years and 330 days. Mainstays from the premiership sides such as Jarryd Roughead, Shaun Burgoyne and Grant Birchall are going to be hard to rely on week in, week out, even if they are still able to provide bursts (as evidenced by Roughead’s five goals in JLT 2).

The big loss for the Hawks goes without saying and that is the loss of Tom Mitchell.

The big benefit for the Hawks may be that like the situation with Gaff and Sheed, the absence of Mitchell is going to allow for some unheralded kids to get major midfield time.

James Worpel

One of the names that could spend regular time in the Hawks engine room is James Worpel.

The man affectionately known as the ‘Worpedo’ played 11 games in his debut season and averaged 17.6 possessions per game.

After being at the top of the ladder for so many years, the Hawks have not had the ability to access high-level talent in the draft, but the club has done well to hit on the likes of Worpel, who was a pick 45 in the 2017 draft.

Worpel finished with 18 touches in JLT 1 and 24 in JLT 2 and was ably assisted by another unheralded name that Hawks fans might want to get familiar with in James Cousins.

Cousins, who is in his third year at the club, has played just seven games over his first two seasons, but was a prolific ball-winner in the side’s two JLT clashes, finishing with 29 and 21 disposals in the two games.

Much of Hawthorn’s success is entirely dependent on health, not including the injury to Mitchell.

With the Brownlow Medallist watching from the sidelines, will the likes of Jaeger O’Meara, Chad Wingard and Tom Scully be able to get enough game time in 2019 to make a difference?

The Brisbane Lions are on the path to becoming feared

After being arguably the most feared AFL team in the history of the league at the turn of the century, the Brisbane Lions have been dormant for the best part of the last decade.

If the JLT results are anything to go by, the Lions are well on the path towards being a feared AFL team once again.

Brisbane trounced Hawthorn in JLT 1 with a 42-point win before scraping to a seven-point win over Melbourne in JLT 2. The club’s big recruit of the off-season, former Dockers star Lachie Neale, begun his Lions career with aplomb, leading all players with 31 touches in the side’s JLT 1 win before finishing with 28 against the Demons.

According to Champion Data, Neale is one of four ‘elite’ players on the Lions list alongside Harris Andrews, skipper Dayne Zorko and Daniel Rich, and is sure to help the Lions climb up the ladder. The club’s ‘elite’ level players are well-supported with the likes of Charlie Cameron and Stefan Martin providing more class around the ground.

Lachie Neale

The Lions also picked up what might prove to be one of the league’s more underrated acquisitions in former Gold Coast Sun Jarryd Lyons.

Lyons starred in JLT 2 finishing with 26 touches to go along with four goals to go along with his 26 touches against Hawthorn in JLT 1.

Since Chris Fagan took over in 2016, the Lions haven’t necessarily increased their win totals dramatically, but the side’s percentage has risen by 28 percent in the space of two seasons, a drastic increase.

The Lions were a lot better than their 5-17 record in 2018, losing five matches by under seven points. Neale’s class should allow them to fare better in close matches.

Brisbane’s trajectory is interestingly similar to the Demons’ after Paul Roos took over the job in 2013. Melbourne’s percentage went from 54 in 2013 to 76 percent two seasons later, a similar rise to Brisbane’s.

The Demons are now one of the league’s most potent attacking teams, boasting a percentage of 131.45 in last year’s 14-win season.

Don’t be surprised if the Lions make a similar leap in coming years.

Dom Sheed is ready to take the superstar leap

If we’re going to talk about blessings in disguise, there is perhaps none bigger across the league than Andrew Gaff’s suspension for West Coast’s Grand Final hero Dom Sheed.

After being dropped twice during the Eagles’ home and away season last year, Sheed exploded to life in the absence of Gaff, averaging 28 disposals and 18 uncontested possessions per game from Round 19 onwards.

In the six matches the Eagles played sans Gaff, Sheed emulated the star left-footers output, averaging near-identical numbers to Gaff. Sheed even topped Gaff in contested possessions, clearances, intercept possesions and goals per game.

Sheed’s 22.9 disposals and 4.3 clearances per game were both career-highs in 2018, but there were reservations regarding whether Gaff’s return would see him fade into the background once again.

Dom Sheed

However, the 23-year-old emphatically dismissed all reservations by being the Eagles’ best midfielder in the two JLT wins.

In an ominous sign for the rest of the league, the Eagles looked perhaps the most fluent in the pre-season competition, and Sheed was at the forefront of it averaging 39.5 disposals per game across the two weeks.

Sheed led the Eagles in metres gained in both weeks with 593 in JLT 1 against Geelong and a whopping 623 in JLT 2 against Fremantle.

The new rules will once again benefit Sheed, who will now not only have more space to work in, but less attention from defensive units given the return of Gaff.

The 50m penalty is going to be a game-changer

It’s the rule that captured the conversation during JLT 2. Players are now able to play on directly from a 50m penalty, which has taken the advantage away from defensive teams that used to use the time taken by the umpire to mark out the 50m to flood the defensive side of the ball.

JLT 2 saw several teams give up virtual 100m penalties as players seemed confused by the rule, with three notably coming in North Melbourne’s clash against Port Adelaide.

It will be interesting to see how teams counter the new rule, if it is enforced the way it was during the Kangaroos-Power game. As pointed out by AFL great Gerard Healy while on commentary, teams may opt to give the duty of manning the mark to a player who is already in its defensive 50m arc as opposed to the player that was originally on the mark, to avoid potentially giving up a 100m penalty.

The Bombers have a lot of work to do before Round 1

Following their acquisition of former GWS Giants star Dylan Shiel, Essendon became the sexy pick as the team to climb up the ladder. The reason fans were high on the Bombers wasn’t solely due to the season either, with the side coming home strong to finish 2018.

However, after finishing the pre-season 0-2 and struggling to really dominate opponents, the Bombers will need to get back to the drawing board ahead of what looms as a monumental round one clash against the Giants.

The Bombers have looked to sure up their defence, bringing over defensive coach Ben Rutten from Richmond, but the side’s defence proved leaky to say the least, conceding in excess of 100 in each of the two JLT contests.

Bombers skipper Dyson Heppell has preached for fans to be patient as the side gets accustomed to Rutton’s defensive schemes.

Dyson Heppell

“It’s all new and new things do take time to really delve in,” Heppell told SEN radio on Tuesday.

“We’ve improved a hell of a lot since it was implemented early days in the pre-season and honestly it’s not too different to what we were doing, just a couple of tweaks, but that will take time to learn and really sink into the group.

It will also be interesting to see how the new rules affect the defensive side of Essendon’s game.

While the team will no doubt be helped on the offensive side of the ball, Essendon made its run from Rounds 8-23 last season on the back of locking the ball inside its forward half of the ground.

The Bombers ranked 6th in the league for forward half intercepts with 26.0 up from 20.4 (17th) in the first seven rounds. Additionally, Essendon led the league in pressure factor with 186, led by the league’s leading tackler Devon Smith.

With the new rules opening up the ground more, the Bombers will have to be wary of teams hurting them with blistering counter-attacks and isolating their defence, which will start the season undermanned in the absence of Cale Hooker.

The rule regarding runners will polarise all season long

Out of all of the AFL’s new rules, the one regarding the runners has certainly been one of the most polarising. Runners are now only permitted to be on the ground after goals, limiting the amount of messages that coaches can get out to their playing group.

Players who have grown up with the benefit of runners throughout their careers are already slightly lost without the constant direction from the coaching staff, while coaches themselves are feeling slightly handicapped.

Essendon star Dylan Shiel, Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge, St Kilda coach Alan Richardson and Brisbane veteran Luke Hodge have all called for the AFL to loosen its restrictions on the runners.

While there was a chorus of voices against the rule, Essendon great Matthew Lloyd backed the restriction.

Dylan Shiel

“For the control the coaches have lost, we’re going to have a much better game for it,” Lloyd told Sportsday.

“I think the instinct has been lost on players.

“I know in my last couple of years of playing my mind was on where the coach wanted me to stand, or where do I need to be now.

“I lost everything I had as a player because I had the life coached out of me.”

Let the debates rage on.

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