‘Ridiculous’, ‘disgrace’: Ex-players fume over new rule
Players will be encouraged to hand over the mark to a downfield teammate to avoid giving away "ridiculous" repeat 50m penalties this season.
The new 50m protected zone tweak has emerged as the AFL's most unpopular new rule after umpires controversially paid four double-up 50m penalties on Saturday, sparking widespread confusion, in particular, during Port Adelaide's JLT Series win over North Melbourne.
The costly 100m penalties were slammed by some commentators, including Sydney great Jude Bolton who said there was "no need" for the 50m crackdown.
"I despise the 50m rule at the present," Bolton said.
Under new rules, players who receive 50m penalties must be allowed to advance the ball down field without any interference or contact from the opposition.
If an opponent trying to man the mark either re-enters the 50m recipient's protected area or fails to leave that space, the umpire will pay another 50m penalty.
Richmond's Jack Riewoldt booted a certain goal from point blank range on Saturday night when Hawk James Frawley entered the protected zone from the defensive side, as the pair trotted down field.
But the AFL is adamant there is a simple solution, having encouraged players all summer to hand over the mark to a downfield teammate, if necessary.
"Any player who chooses to run with the 50m recipient must get ahead of him or stay out of the protected zone," league operations boss Steve Hocking said.
"Tom McDonald did it perfectly on Saturday in the Demons-Lions game when he realised he was unable to influence and handed it (the mark) over."
While the AFL will likely repeat the handover instruction to clubs during the week to clarify the situation before next Thursday's season-opener, the league insists the message on this has been loud and clear all summer.
After a swath of rule changes to ease the congestion crisis plaguing footy, the league upped its umpire club visits from 140 last year to 250 this preseason.
The whopping increase was hoped to fully educate players, yet clearly confusion still exists, according to Gerard Healy.
"Everyone is getting sucked in because they don't know the rules," Healy said on Fox Footy.
"This rule has the capacity to create a few issues in the first couple of weeks."
Herald Sun analyst David King said the new rule update was "ridiculous" and a "disgrace" because it penalised players too harshly for simply running into a position to man the mark.
King said Roo Shaun Higgins was one player who was unfairly pinged for encroaching the protected zone as he ran alongside Power's Darcy Byrne-Jones.
"The umpire says (to Higgins) 'Don't impede him (Byrne-Jones)', but he's not impeding him," King said.
"He's running next to him. He's 3m away.
"That's a disgrace. You're already in it (the protected zone) to start with because you've just given the 50 away."
The AFL introduced the new 50m rule so recipients can move down the ground unimpeded, in the hope it can help bust congestion and open up more free-flowing football and scoring.
Last year there were concerns teams were deliberately trying to "cramp" and "obstruct" 50m recipients to try and slow and restrict their movement.
However, it will require clear changes from the team trying to properly man the mark in the new season.
Clubs are likely to address the issue specifically this week in meetings to make sure players can effectively communicate and execute the "handover" technique for the regular season.
There was evidence 50m recipients are already trying to exploit the new rule by deliberately trying to draw contact as they move down the ground.
North captain Jack Ziebell was one who appeared to initiate contact in the hope of winning another 50m penalty.