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AFLW: Last-touch rule in 2018

Nat Edwards, AFL Media  December 13, 2017 5:05 PM

AFLW 2017 Rd 01 - Adelaide v GWS Giants

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 4: Chelsea Randall of the Crows tackled by Nicola Barr of the Giants during the 2017 AFLW Round 01 match between the Adelaide Crows and the GWS Giants at Thebarton Oval on February 4, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by AFL Media)

With any new change there is a certain amount of nerves.

A FREE kick will be paid against the last player who touches the ball before it goes out of bounds in the NAB AFL Women's competition from next year.

The last-touch rule was one of three changes the AFL executive has approved. 

The League advised all clubs on Wednesday that a free kick will be paid against a team where a kick or handball goes out of bounds without being touched by an opposition player.

However, no free kick will be awarded if the opposition player shepherds the ball across the boundary line where the football could have otherwise been touched.

The rule has been brought in to increase scoring and help reduce congestion to create a more free-flowing game.

In the inaugural season of the AFLW, the competition recorded 37 per cent more stoppages than the men's game.

While secondary stoppages were also significantly higher than the AFL at 96 per cent.

AFLW head of football Nicole Livingstone, who officially started her role on Monday, told AFL.com.au the players and clubs have been receptive to the rule change.

"With any new change there is a certain amount of nerves," she said.

"But the bottom line is, if there is any doubt in terms of whether or not it has been touched or not, the umpire will throw the ball in.

"I think with any kind of change there will be those traditionalist that aren't that comfortable with it. There's certainly being a lot of commentary around why don't we play the same game as the men.

"But when you've got 800 men on lists around the country with AFL, we don't want to get lost with that crowd. We want our women to standout and showcase the best football that they can play and I think that's what's really important."

Earlier this month, the AFLW clubs met with AFL football operations boss Steve Hocking and AFL head of competition Josh Vanderloo to discuss how to improve the women's game next season.

The last-touch rule was canvassed at the AFLW forum, along with several other potential changes.

The last-touch rule has been trialed by the AFL in pre-season competitions in the past, while the SANFL introduced the rule in 2016.

As a result, scoring in the SANFL has increased, while the number of stoppages and throw ins have been reduced. 

The umpiring department is still working through what the hand signal for last touch out of bounds will be.

There will also be two other rule changes for the second season of the AFLW competition.

The number of players per team has been reduced from 22 to 21, with one less player allowed on the bench.

16 players will still take to the field, as they did in 2017, however there will now only be five players on the bench instead of six.

Data from the first season of AFLW showed that one to two players on average were only getting around 35 per cent of game time.

Livingstone said the reduction in the number of bench players would ultimately give more opportunities to players in the team.

Games will also be slightly longer with two minutes of time-on added to the end of each quarter to account for any delays during the match.

Despite being in the job for just three days, Livingstone has already begun meeting with the AFLW clubs.

The 2018 AFLW season kicks off on February 2 with traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood to clash at Ikon Park. 

A free kick shall be awarded against a player who:

- Kicks or handballs the football over the boundary line without the football being touched by another player;

- Except where a player who does not have possession stops the football being touched by an opposition player by shepherding the football across the boundary line where the football could have otherwise been touched.

- If in doubt the umpires are instructed to throw the ball in.