Just how will the three new rules for the 2018 AFLW season impact on player output and overall scoring?
That is the question on many minds leading into Friday night’s season opener at Princes Park between Carlton and Collingwood.
How we got here
The inaugural season was excellent on several fronts but kicking goals was not one of them.
Indeed in the opening round last year all four of the losing sides failed to kick multiple goals for the whole game.
While still entertaining to watch, the AFL rightly recognised that congestion around the stoppages needed to be eased in order to create the opportunity for more points.
Three (3) new rules were devised to decrease congestion and increase scoring.
New Rule #1 – Last Disposal Rule in effect for 2018
There are a few small complexities to the rule but essentially if the ball goes over the boundary from a kick or handball without touching another player then a free kick is awarded against said player/team.
In effect this rule reduces the number of boundary throw-ins which in turn creates less congestion at the contest.
A secondary impact of the rule is in the mindset of players who become more incentivised to switch play or use the corridor instead of bombing it long to a contest down the line and risk the ball going out untouched.
New Rule #2 – Time-on added to the last two minutes of each quarter
Any stoppages or goals in the last two minutes of each quarter will result in time-on being added.
Given it is not the whole quarter but just the final two minutes of regular time, this new rule will not see too much time being added to each quarter (indeed at most it can be two minutes but that would only be if time had stopped for an injury).
Most likely it will mean a maximum of 30 seconds added to each quarter.
New Rule #3 – One less interchange player
Lastly the stats coming back from 2017 regarding interchange were that one of the six players on the bench was invariably getting just 35% of game time.
This resulted (sensibly I might add) in a rule simply removing one interchange player from the bench which spreads that 35% of game time (roughly 21 minutes) across the remaining five bench players.
This may not have a huge influence on overall points but it does increase bench player statistics and team continuity while also slightly decreasing the ability of teams to cover multiple injuries, both of which creates potential for more scoring.
For many players in the inaugural season, 2017 was their first time in anything that remotely resembled a high performance environment.
After a whole off-season and pre-season with nothing but ‘get better’ on every players mind, a ‘natural improvement’ factor should be applied to things such as kicking efficiency, decision making, marking and many subtler actions that all combine to increase scoring chances.
What does it all mean?
With a slight increase in game time as well as increased continuity and natural improvement, decreased congestion and a mechanism designed to incentivise corridor play, AFLW scores (and player statistics) can be expected to rise by 10-15% at least.
A close look at the 2017 stats shows that on average a dozen players from each team got just seven (7) possessions or less each game, with half a dozen getting under five (5).
In contrast there were half a dozen players on average who made double figure disposal counts with 2-3 players each game recording comparatively massive numbers.
What is more, unlike in the AFL where players who record high tackle counts aren’t often the high possession winners, high disposal counts were synonymous with high tackle counts in the AFLW in 2017.
The guns in the middle did it all in other words.
This statistical gulf between top and bottom will only increase in 2018 before it realigns in seasons to come, so premium players must be purchased regardless of price.
Tackle stats in relation to disposals are intriguing in AFLW.
In 2017 there was 55 tackles per team per game (compared to 68 per team per game for the men whose games were twice as long) while the disposals per team per game were 177 in AFLW (compared to 382 in the AFL).
What these stats highlight is that tackles in the AFLW are almost worth double given the lack of disposals (not to mention marks and goals), so in a game where there just aren’t that many points going around for kicks/marks/handballs paying a premium for a player who is going to net you 7 or 8 tackles is pure gold.
The ‘last touch’ rule is expected to ease congestion which could see these tackle stats as well as hit-outs for rucks come down but I don’t expect them to drop that much at all given the increased ferocity expected at the contest.
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