Two weeks away from the 2021 AFL season-opener, the man on the mark rule is a complete mess.The weekend’s scratch matches were overshadowed by a series of perplexing incidents that resulted in 50m penalties on the back of players moving on the mark.
The contentious rule is now clear as mud after the AFL signalled a softening of the black-and-white interpretation that caused such uproar over the weekend.
There was a backlash from footy commentators when footage emerged last week of Essendon’s match simulation, showing Darcy Parish being awarded a 50m free kick when Kyle Langford moved off the mark slightly to his left.
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The decision was the correct one based on the new “standing the mark” rule, which reared its head again on the weekend in a scratch match between West Coast and Fremantle.
Fremantle backman Brennan Cox was pinged after spinning around and taking a step towards the posts, at which point the umpire immediately awarded a 50-metre penalty.
Reports on Tuesday morning claimed the AFL is still experimenting with the rule and won’t make a final decision until after this weekend’s sole round of official pre-season games.
SEN’s Sam Edmund reported the AFL is still in two-minds about shifting to a “grey” interpretation that would allow players the discretion of “minimal lateral movement” when standing on the mark. The AFL for now is still pushing ahead with the black and white interpretation seen on the weekend.
AFL head of football Steve Hocking told The Herald Sun on Monday night the league is still considering changes.
He also claimed the controversial ruling on the Brennan Cox fifty was the correct one from the field umpire.
“If there needs to be a subtle adjustment to it, that’s what we will do over the coming weeks,’’ Hocking said.
The senior administrator said the league is “ very happy” with the rule that has turned defenders into statues when manning the mark.
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The restrictions on movement will take some getting used to and another aspect of the rule appeared to fly under the radar in Brisbane’s pre-season clash against the Gold Coast on Saturday.
Lions recruit Joe Daniher booted four goals, including one set shot from 50m out. However, he wheeled around onto his left foot in a wide arc, which should have been picked up by either his opponent or the official.
Under the new man-on-the-mark rule, umpires have been instructed to call “play on” whenever a kicker deviates off a straight line. Because the defender manning the mark can’t move anymore, allowing players to run as far wide as Daniher would open up the possibility for kickers to simply run past the player in front of them.