The 2021 season will see the introduction of three new rules, all designed to open up more “space and time” in the game.

On Wednesday, AFL General Manager of Football Operations Steve Hocking announced that the interchange cap will be reduced to 75, there will be stricter penalties for players standing the mark and players returning the ball to play after an opposition behind will be given more space. 

So what does it all mean? 

Interchange Cap 

The new rule: Rotations will decrease from 90 per match in 2020 to 75 per match in 2021. Each team will continue to be permitted four interchange players.

What Steve Hocking said: "The main reason (for the 75 interchange cap) is to try and open up congestion around the ground. There are a lot of high pressure game styles which have kicked in, the pressure factors have increased, and have been on the increase for five years now, so our belief is we need to put a little bit of fatigue back into the system, and to recalibrate that part of the game and hopefully have the result of opening up the game. We will remain open on how that looks for 2022.”

Location of the Mark at Kick-Ins 

The new rule: The mark will now be set at 15 metres from the centre of the kick-off line towards the centre of the ground at kick-ins. This was previously set at 10 metres. 

What Steve Hocking said: "We just want more time and space back in the game. The fans are looking for a better balance between defence and attack, and the game has definitely swayed to towards defence.”

Player Standing the Mark

The new rule: The defending player will only be permitted minimal lateral movement on the mark. If the defending player moves off the mark in any direction prior to ‘play on’ being called, a 50-metre penalty will apply. The defensive team is unable to substitute the player on the mark.

What Steve Hocking said: We think that will open up the game, it will open up the 45 (degree angle) pass option, which is the best real estate. My role in that as custodian of it is to make sure the right things are introduced to open the game back up, and to have more Dustin Martin moments that he did in the Grand Final, where he was able to find space, and we would like to create more of those – that's my role and I'm committed to finding that space.” 

In 2021, the quarter length is expected to return to 20 minutes plus time-on, up from 16 minutes plus time-on in 2020, but the AFL is yet to formally announce that change.

Decisions on the length of the season and the style of the season are also to be determined, though clubs have been told there will be a return in 2021 to a minimum 22 matches per club.

Along with changes at the AFL level in 2021, the AFL will also trial a new rule in the newly-formed VFL and East Coast competition.

The GIANTS will field a side in this competition, which amalgamates AFL club’s second-tier sides from Queensland, NSW and Victoria into one competition, alongside other stand alone clubs.

Three Players Inside 50 Metres at Stoppage

The AFL has opted not to introduce zones in the top-tier competition for 2021 but will trial changes at the lower level next season.

The new rule: A minimum of three players from each team to be stationed inside 50 metres - including one pair in the goal square - at all kick-ins, boundary throw-ins and ball-ups. The officiating umpire will not recommence play until all players are in position. Where a team fails to comply at a boundary throw-in or a ball-up, a free kick shall be awarded to the player of the opposing team at the point of the stoppage. Where the attacking team fails to comply at a kick-in, a 50-metre penalty shall be awarded to the defending team.

What the AFL said: “The rule to be implemented in the VFL and East Coast Second-Tier Competition will be closely monitored prior to consideration as to whether it is implemented in the 2022 Toyota AFL Premiership Season.”