With concern about the quality of AFL matches at tipping point due to congestion and low scoring, football legends David King and Nick Riewoldt are united on a simple tweak that could make a big change.
King, who won two premierships in a 241-game career with North Melbourne, wants umpires to be stricter on free kicks for holding the ball and incorrect disposal.
He and Riewoldt agree players are given far too much leeway if they dispose of the ball incorrectly when being tackled and that constant ball-ups around the ground are the main reason for unsightly congestion.
“I think it comes down to umpiring … we call a ball-up and the game stops,” King said on Fox Footy.
“The initial ball winner, let’s look after him [and give him a proper chance to get rid of the football].
“But once the possession chain starts, why do you reset prior opportunity every time? It’s a team prior.
“[More free kicks] puts the kilometres back into the football, not the player, and I think that’s a drastic change.
“The players are taxed, we get that. Let’s get the ball moving again. A ball in motion will solve everything.”
Riewoldt, who retired at the end of last year, feels that plan would encourage more ‘stay-at-home’ forwards which would, in turn, increase scoring levels.
“Players are reluctant to quick kick the ball and kick the ball forward because inevitably, you are going to be outnumbered,” he said.
“If you know players in congestion are going to be releasing the ball and getting it forward [or risk being penalised], you are more likely to hold your forwards and play six forwards.”
Earlier, King had added: “We’ve got to make sure that stoppages don’t allow players to set this congested sort of mix around the football, of 25 to 30 players. That’s the problem for me.”
‘A big change’
The pair were joined by former Western Bulldogs captain Robert Murphy and ex-Carlton skipper Mark Maclure in a ‘State of the Game’ special on Fox Footy on Wednesday night.
Murphy feels the moment that AFL matches started to change was in 2006, when players were no longer on one opponent for a whole match.
“It was a big change around that period,” he said.
“In 2005, you could have a personal battle with your defender.
“It was, ‘ok, you and me for the day, let’s see who is better, let’s see who can run further’ and then all of a sudden … [it went to zone defence].”
Riewoldt echoed a similar view.
“2004 stands out for me … there was no rolling zones. No doubt footy was more enjoyable,” he said.
“And being able to have the Carey-Jakovich type battles – we don’t see that anymore. And we’re poorer for it, I think.”
‘Alarming and concerning’
The issue of scoring was a hot topic, with King insisting that change was needed to fix one of the sport’s most talked-about problems.
“Scoring has been dropping off every year for a decade,” he said.
“It is alarming and it is concerning … ultimately it’s the fan’s game … ultimately the fan has got to want to go to the game.
“I challenge anyone in Row 30 at the MCG to work out who is playing well when the ball is not leaving that beehive [around the football].”
And what about zones?
Football greats Leigh Matthews and Malcolm Blight have spoken about the positive impact zones may have on the game, but the Fox Footy panel did not share the same opinion.
“I’m not in favour of it,” Riewoldt said, while Murphy said that sort of change was “nuclear” and gave him “the jitters”.