Footy greats criticise 'demeaning, contradictory' AFL rule trials

Michael Ramsey

AFL great Leigh Matthews says the potential trialling of major rule changes in late-season games would be "demeaning" to the competition, while Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew has reservations about his side being used as guinea pigs.

The AFL is set to introduce rule tweaks next season and will consider putting them to the test in matches that have no bearing on the top eight during this year's final rounds.

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan on Wednesday revealed three games on consecutive weekends had been earmarked as potential guinea pigs.

"I can tell you that there's three fixtures on consecutive weekends that I don't think will have any bearing on the eight," McLachlan told SEN radio on Wednesday.

"We're certainly discussing it, whether that's appropriate ... the emerging view is that it is.

"If you trialled something between the two clubs and they weren't playing another team that's competing for the eight, I don't think there's any way it could be a risk to the integrity of the competition."

Test games could include bottom-placed Carlton's games against Fremantle in round 21 and the Western Bulldogs in round 22, as well as the round 22 clash between Gold Coast and Brisbane.

Dew said the Suns had not been contacted by the AFL about trials but would be reluctant to change their players' focus.

"It sounds like it would be a hard thing to do," Dew told reporters.

"We want to play every game to win, not trial (changes).

"There might not be implications for the finals but there's players' careers and club reputations."

McLachlan wants to change the rules before the season is out. Pic: Getty

AFL Hall of Fame member Matthews believes otherwise.

"It seems demeaning to me, a bit like it's demeaning the game," he told Macquarie Sports Radio.

"I kind of thought when I played myself and coached my players, every game was like a grand final.

"That was my philosophy to competing."

Matthews wasn't alone in criticising the idea, with former Geelong captain Cameron Ling tweeting his disapproval:

Essendon premiership winner Matthew Lloyd felt the stance went against the AFL's own recent decisions.

"I can't believe Gillon has floated this one," he said on 3AW.

"This is the same Gillon McLachlan who introduced a bye after round 23 because he was so disappointed teams were resting players before finals and he wasn't happy we weren't having the best teams out there, yet he's happy to toy with the rules and integrity of the game late in the season himself? I think it's really contradictory."

Former North Melbourne and St Kilda midfielder Nick Dal Santo also spoke out against the idea, saying he would struggle to take such a game seriously as a player.

If I was told maybe in one fortnight’s time you’re going to be playing a modified game, do you know what I would be saying to the coach?" he told SEN.

"‘This game isn’t a real game, I’m playing full forward today, thanks coach'. I would struggle mentally to take this game seriously if they’re modified rules in season.”

McLachlan said the trial would only go ahead with consent from the competing teams.

Umpires would also need to understand the changed rules. Pic: Getty

A major hurdle for the league would be finding a way to ensure the draft order is not compromised.

Carlton appear certain to finish bottom of the ladder and receive the No.1 draft pick but just four points separate the 14th-placed Bulldogs from 17th-placed Suns.

McLachlan was briefed on Monday by AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking on potential rule changes for next year, with the introduction of starting positions at centre bounces believed to be top of the agenda.

The AFL's competition committee will meet on Wednesday but McLachlan said it was unlikely Hocking would emerge with confirmed changes for next season.

Hocking must bring any potential rule changes to the AFL Commission by the end of August and any tweaks would also have to be approved by the AFL executive.