AFL 2021: The winners and losers under league’s new playing rules
AFL 2021: The winners and losers under league’s new playing rules

AFL 2021: How the new rules are flipping player stocks

The game, it is a-changin' - and most people will say for the better.

Unbeaten Sydney coach John Longmire tells us it takes six or seven weeks for trends to set in each season and for clubs to counter different developments, so that's worth noting.



However, there are some significant shifts that can't be ignored as a result of the AFL's latest rule changes, including players becoming statues on the mark and rotations being slashed from 90 to 75.

It's not only easier to transition from defensive 50 to attack but also to score, and stoppage numbers have plummeted from the normalised 2020 numbers of 63.6 to only 49 this year.


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Contested possessions, pressure and one-on-one contests are down, while uncontested possessions, marks and scoring are up.

Marks on the lead have climbed from 6.9 per team to 8.4, as part of the friendlier world for hit-up forwards, who are suddenly operating with unfamiliar space.

The biggest losers appear to be the one-trick pony inside midfielders, although there are varying opinions on this.

Some will tell you there will always be a great need for them, but others are concerned that many can't play other positions effectively and won't keep up with the way the ball's pinging around.

The impact on this year's draft remains to be seen, with several clubs caught on the hop by the rule changes on season eve that haven't suited everyone.



JORDAN DAWSON (Sydney): This Swan's reputation has blossomed through the first three rounds of the year. Dawson's a genuine weapon off half-back with his combination of running and kicking talents. Comfortably averaging career-high disposals and rates elite for metres gained, effective kicks and both inside and rebound 50s.


NICK HIND (Essendon): Fell out of favour at St Kilda, but is putting together a good season for the Bombers, back playing in a similar defensive role to what he had in the VFL. His speed is helping him keep pace with small forwards - despite them enjoying more time and space - and he's yet to concede a goal from his main match-ups.


Changkuoth Jiath has appears to have a licence to run and bounce of half-back.
Changkuoth Jiath has appears to have a licence to run and bounce of half-back.


CHANGKUOTH JIATH (Hawthorn): Speed kills more than ever in the wake of the AFL's rule tweaks. Teams are attacking through the corridor at an increased rate and Jiath seems to have a license to run and bounce from half-back. Rates elite in intercept marks and inside 50s among defenders.


ED LANGDON (Melbourne): No onballer, wingman or midfielder-forward lasts longer on the ground this year than Langdon's 95 per cent game time. The Demon took a while to realise Simon Goodwin was coaching from the sidelines because he so rarely comes off. Langdon's value goes through the roof with the rotations cap.


Darcy Moore ranks first in the competition for intercept marks.
Darcy Moore ranks first in the competition for intercept marks.


DARCY MOORE (Collingwood): There are two sides to this. Has been exposed at times with his ultra-aggressive approach, but the Magpies star admits he's willing to take that risk. Not every defender gets the balance as right as Moore does. Ranks equal-first with Jake Lever for intercept marks with 14, and his offensive game has surged.


AARON NAUGHTON (Western Bulldogs): Perhaps better known for his pack marking, but no player has taken more marks on the lead in 2021 than Naughton's 13. His high workrate is coming to the fore. There's a feeling Ben Brown, who takes a lot of his marks on the lead, will also enjoy the new rules.


MARK O'CONNOR (Geelong): The backman-turned-tagger is the new poster boy for defensive midfielders. Has quelled Brownlow medallists Lachie Neale and Tom Mitchell in back-to-back weeks, while winning plenty of his own Sherrin. With fewer stoppages and running ability more important than ever, will AFL coaches be more willing to unleash their own O'Connor clones?




KOZZY PICKETT (Melbourne): The electrifying Demon returned fitter for his second AFL campaign despite spending some of the pre-season away from the club. He's kicked seven goals, and his 13 forward-50 groundball-gets lead the competition. Pickett is thriving with the extra space in attack, with his fast feet and dazzling moves befuddling opposition defenders.


ADAM TRELOAR (Western Bulldogs): This blistering Bulldog has been a wonderful outside complement to Luke Beveridge's hard-nosed on-ball brigade. He's tearing up the ground with the extra space he's being afforded, and rates elite for effective disposals - a welcome development - uncontested possessions, inside 50s and score involvements.


TAYLOR WALKER (Adelaide): Walker was never renowned for taking bucketloads of contested marks, so this year's game shift is right in his wheelhouse. He's earning a living on the lead as usual, but he's also on career-best pace for contested marks, with less chance for defenders to crowd him. Has excelled with his forward-50 tackling as well.






PATRICK CRIPPS (Carlton): Not even his weekend performance could shake the doubts among some AFL insiders about his long-range prospects this season. The inside specialist's clearance, contested possession and tackling numbers are well down, with the double whammy of the new rules and the Blues'game style said to be working against him.


BRAD CROUCH (St Kilda): Essendon torched the Saints defensively on Saturday evening with their run, spread and ball use. Will Crouch be able to help his new club in those areas once he finds his feet? His name popped up a lot as a worry with the new rules, given his lack of positional flexibility and aerobic limitations.


Ben Cunnington’s ability to run has been exposed.
Ben Cunnington’s ability to run has been exposed.


BEN CUNNINGTON (North Melbourne): The dual Kangaroos club champion played his first game of the season on Good Friday, so it's not necessarily his Round 3 output that's raised a red flag. Cunnington's never been a good runner, but what he has that others don't in his position is the ability to play competently in attack.


JACOB HOPPER (GWS Giants): Hopper is a contested ball-winning beast, but there's an element of 'sameness' about the Giants' midfield and that's partly why Tom Green hasn't been a regular this year. There isn't an obvious second role for Hopper and the lack of variety around him isn't his fault, but he'll hope the game slows down around him.


JAMES WORPEL (Hawthorn): The Hawks are operating with Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O'Meara and Chad Wingard as their first-choice centre-bounce set-up, so Worpel is the odd man out. Is yet to register more than 17 touches, after averaging almost 27 without Mitchell in 2019. Alastair Clarkson likes versatility in his men, but Worpel's been an inside midfielder all the way through.

Originally published as Boom or bust: How the new rules are flipping player stocks

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