The AFL has moved to amend the smother rule as one of multiple changes for the upcoming season. Changing the smother rule was first floated last year after Collingwood vice-captain Brayden Maynard's controversial tribunal case.
Maynard knocked out Angus Brayshaw in the Pies win over Melbourne in the first week of the finals. He was facing a season-ending three-game ban for his high bump on Brayshaw, which left the Demons player unconscious on the MCG turf. But after a marathon four-hour AFL tribunal hearing, Collingwood lawyers managed to clear him, successfully arguing the incident was unavoidable after Maynard leapt into the air to attempt a smother.
In a bid to prevent another similar incident in the upcoming season, the AFL Commission on Monday amended the rule. The change effectively means when a player elects to leave the ground in an attempt to smother, any high contact with an opponent, graded as 'low impact' will be deemed careless. The decision comes after last week it was announced that anyone concussed at the grassroots level must take a minimum 21-day break from competitive contact or collision sport.
AFL football boss Laura Kane said the sport is as good as it has ever been but the game needs to adapt to ensure it progressively becomes safer. "We want to make the game safer, we want to make the game better and we've seen over the past couple of years an evolution of the on-field product," Kane said.
"The game is as good as it's ever been. It's a spectacle. It's exciting, it's fast. But at the same time, we've made over 30 changes to the rules and the regulations to make it safer. So we can do both at once and our responsibility, the cascade effect to community football is most certainly not lost on us."
The AFL boss reiterated that she was not comfortable with the outcome of Maynard's tribunal and the sport needs to do what it can to prevent a similar case in the future. "We weren't comfortable with the outcome of the tribunal and the changes today are taking steps to change that," Kane added.
All AFL rule changes for the upcoming 2024 season
The AFL confirmed a handful of changes for the upcoming season, which included the amendment of the smother rule as well as a tweak to rough conduct guidelines with a focus on run-down tackles. The league stressed to clubs late last year that it is not pushing to exile the run-down tackle but instead wants a focus put on the force with which the tackled player is driven into the ground.
The AFL also announced the sub-rule will continue, but clubs can now name an extended bench of five players (an increase from four) and three emergency players. Each team's sub will then need to be confirmed 60 minutes before the match.
There is also a change to allow straight-arm blocks in a ruck contest, with players able to attempt to block the ball with a straight arm as long as they are contesting the ball. But probably the most bizarre rule change is the AFL has moved to enforce a no-whistling policy.
The league has banned coaches from whistling from the interchange bench, stating it "interrupts the audio of match broadcasts". "Whistling is not something that I want to see on the sideline," Kane said.
"For our umpires, our broadcasters and everyone on the bench, whistling won't feature as part of our game moving forward." The rule changes as a whole have split the AFL community, with some arguing that it will improve player safety, while others say the run-down tackle and smother changes are just a knee-jerk reaction.
It’s going to be as bad this year as last, nobody knows where the line is until after it’s been stepped over. Can smother can’t smother, can run down tackle can’t run down tackle….
Keeping the dumb sub rule that the coaches disliked, so AFL…
— YnB4ever (@bjt0080) February 6, 2024
the classic AFL knee jerk reaction.
it's interesting that falling on an opponents legs in an attempt to smother and breaking their leg (which has happened more than head hits) would result in no punishment at all.
— Nathan (@Death_Ablaze) February 6, 2024
This is crazy.
The #AFL has tweaked the rule so when a player elects to leave the ground in an attempt to smother, any high contact with an opponent that is graded as low impact will be deemed to be careless in the guidelines. pic.twitter.com/n9BDjvU1Aj
— Jesse (@jeppo005) February 6, 2024
From what I can see, the rule changes don't do anything to define what is and isn't a legal/safe way to tackle/smother, they just impose greater minimum penalties in instances where a head knock occurs.
Just the afl trying to absolve itself of liability without doing any work
— D H (@lennydil) February 5, 2024
Also happy with the new smother rule change, albeit a season too late...
— Belinda Hoare 🌻 (@belinda8888) February 6, 2024
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