Robbo: It’s time the AFL revealed just who came up with the new rule changes that saved the game
Robbo: It’s time the AFL revealed just who came up with the new rule changes that saved the game

Robbo: Just who is to thank for saving footy?

My money is on Steve Hocking as the man who saved football from strangulation.

Not that the AFL will tell us who invented the new man-on-the-mark approach - a rule that was introduced to the commission and given an overwhelming thumbs up.

Inquiries began again this week about who should take the credit for the increased and daring ball movement across the opening two rounds, but they were dead-batted by headquarters.

"It's a team game" was the official position.

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Robbo reckons the smart money is on AFL football operations boss Steve Hocking as the man who came up with the innovative new rule. Picture: Mark Stewart
Robbo reckons the smart money is on AFL football operations boss Steve Hocking as the man who came up with the innovative new rule. Picture: Mark Stewart

It's early in its reincarnation, but football has felt and looked better than it has for five years. Maybe more.

It's why the man or woman at AFL House who is behind this monumental shift has to be identified.

History must record the name of the person who deftly rescued footy from the clutches of the coaches and their defensive manipulations.

Hocking won't take credit, if in fact he deserves the credit.

Remember, this bloke retired on 199 games at Geelong, preferring retirement ahead of playing on and securing that one extra game to join the 200-club.

It's not about him.

Asked in the pre-season who was the mastermind behind the man-on-the-mark rule, Hocking avoided the answer.

 

Mark Robinson wants to know who came up with the rule that saved footy.
Mark Robinson wants to know who came up with the rule that saved footy.

 

When AFL CEO Gill McLachlan was asked, he said: "I don't know."

If it is Hocking, he deserves to be named.

After all, Hocking is always heavily criticised when anything in the game goes skewiff, so why shouldn't he be congratulated when the game is thriving?

Other rules have helped showcase the best of footy.

The lowering of interchange rotations has brought back fatigue to the game and the 15m free zone from the top of the goalsquare has thankfully stopped the dull, short kick to the back pocket which used to start the bottle neck.

For so long, defence won.

Now, offence is winning.

The man-on-the-mark rule has opened options for the kicker and the speed-of-ball movement no longer allows defensive grids to settle and stifle the game.

One-on-ones inside the 50m arcs - as opposed to two-on-one or three-on-one - is the welcomed part of the revolution.

Players such as Taylor Walker, Jack Riewoldt, Josh Kennedy, Charlie Dixon, Aaron Naughton and Tom Hawkins flourish with more space and fewer bodies around them.

Can you believe we are talking about a possible return of the 100-goalkicker?

In 2012, Riewoldt won the Coleman Medal with 65 goals. In 2017, Lance Franklin won it with 69 goals.

Asked on the weekend what had changed in his absence, Franklin said: "The leading forward is back."

It was priceless publicity for the changed game.

What we do know is the man-on-the-mark rule was not born from the AFL Competition Committee.

It originated inside the AFL football department, which is led by Hocking and Rob Auld and has another 15 contributors, was then sent to the AFL Commission for approval and then was refined at Competition Committee level

The AFL's only comment yesterday was that players, coaches and umpires should be commended for forging change in the game.

"Over recent seasons the AFL football department, led by Steve Hocking, have been monitoring the trends of the game and have actively engaged in extensive data analytics and stakeholder feedback," a spokesperson said.
"The sample size this season points to a more open game, an encouraging sight for football purists and fans alike.
"Players, coaches and umpires have all embraced the workings and we look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve across the season.''

Still no individual ownership.

Is there anyone at AFL House prepared to spill the beans? There's $100 in it for ya.

 

Originally published as Robbo: Just who is to thank for saving footy?