The AFL will strongly consider mandating at least three players from each team be stationed inside both 50-metre arcs at all stoppages in a bid to combat defensive structures.
The AFL has reduced interchange rotations to a maximum of 75 per team, down from 90
Players standing the mark will only be allowed “minimal” lateral movement, and the location of the mark at kick-ins will be set at 15 metres from the centre of the kick-off line
The AFL said the rule tweaks were designed to provide “an opportunity for players to have more freedom to play on instinct”
The rule will be trialled in the new VFL and East Coast second-tier competition next year, with an eye towards introducing it at the elite level for 2022.
The innovation comes as the AFL on Wednesday announced three rule tweaks for the 2021 season designed to facilitate more attacking play and lead to higher scoring.
As expected, there will be a further reduction in interchange rotations to a maximum of 75 per team, down from 90 last season.
Players standing the mark will only be allowed “minimal” lateral movement, and the location of the mark at kick-ins will be set at 15 metres from the centre of the kick-off line.
It was previously set at 10 metres.
“The evolution of the game has seen an increase in defensive structures and these changes combined are designed to provide a better balance between attack and defence while encouraging more open ball movement,” AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking said in a statement.
“We have some of the most skilful athletes in the world, and the three changes are designed to reduce the defensive capability of teams and open up the game, providing an opportunity for players to have more freedom to play on instinct and show off their natural flair.
Hocking said the AFL had not considered reducing the number of players on the field to create more space.
He said the rule being tested in the VFL and East Coast competition would have that effect by spreading players out across the ground.
It is also expected that fewer interchange rotations will lead to more player fatigue and result in fewer players being able to get to stoppages, thus limiting congestion.
The cap on rotations could come down even further in future seasons but was only reduced by 15 for next year so as not to put players under too much stress.
“We felt that was that right level and it’s incremental change, so we’ll remain open as to what the future looks like beyond 2021,” Hocking said.
Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys says the State of Origin is likely to return to a mid-season timeslot in 2021, with the league hoping the series regains its significant TV audience.
The ARLC was disappointed about State of Origin I’s TV ratings, which are traditionally strong
COVID-19 meant the ARLC rescheduled the Origin series to be played after the NRL season
Origin is normally played in a mid-season timeslot
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the ARLC to stage the three State of Origin matches across consecutive weeks this month, the first time the series has been played following an NRL season.
The annual series between New South Wales and Queensland has previously begun in late May or early June, and concluded in July.
But the opening match attracted disappointing TV ratings, despite them being traditionally strong.
The series is also featuring capped crowds at the three venues because of COVID-19 restrictions.
V’landys, speaking ahead of Wednesday night’s State of Origin II in Sydney, said he expected the series would be played mid-season next year.
“[It’s] more likely that this will be the one and only time because the ratings weren’t very good,” he told SEN Radio.
“I know there have been a few excuses, and we will see if those excuses are credible come Wednesday night (State of Origin II) when it’s a live rubber.”
The Nine Network’s State of Origin I coverage attracted a national average TV audience of 2.38 million viewers, which was about 25 per cent down on the figure for last year’s series opener.
It was also the lowest figure since they were first recorded in 2003.
V’landys said a reason why TV viewers did not tune in last Wednesday night in the same numbers as previous years might have been because the Maroons were considered to have little chance of defeating the Blues.
Injuries to key players meant the Maroons fielded an understrength squad, yet they caused an upset by winning 18-14.
“I think one of the reasons the ratings were down is that nobody gave Queensland a chance,” V’landys said.
V’landys said State of Origin II would give the ARLC a better idea of when it should schedule the series next season.
“We’ll see what happens tomorrow night,” he said.
“If the ratings are substantial … then we will make an informed decision.”
V’landys said he was hopeful a crowd of about 40,000 spectators would attend the second match of the series at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.
After watching the world react to the death of George Floyd at the hands of US police, the Opals made the call to stand united against racism.
The May 25 incident in Minneapolis fuelled the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, with Australia’s leading female basketballers adding their voices to subsequent protests around the world.
The Opals announced they would not train until Basketball Australia (BA) made a commitment to eradicating racial injustice in the sport and highlight the impacts of racism here.
It prompted BA and the Opals to launch the RISE UP — an acronym for Respect, Injustice, Standards, Equality, Unity, Peace — campaign in July.
It’s what the team practices on and off the court, and will now take with them into the WNBL season, which will be played over six weeks in a north Queensland hub, starting on November 11.
“The RISE UP campaign will be very prominent through the season,” Basketball Australia CEO Jerril Rechter told the ABC.
“It’s going on all the logos across all the uniforms, all of the decals and the LEDs at every single game.
“We’ve got Indigenous awareness information sessions happening with our athletes with an Elder. We’re launching our Reconciliation Action Plan next week.
“The power of us coming together with the Opals and asking the community to RISE UP, to see that this is not just an American problem, it’s a worldwide issue, and it has relevance here in Australia, it’s very powerful.”
How the players will make their voices heard during WNBL season
For Opal and Melbourne Boomers co-captain Cayla George, heading to Cairns, Mackay and Townsville gives her an opportunity to take what the RISE UP campaign means to her to places she would not have had the chance to experience in a normal season.
Connecting with communities in the region is something that is close to her heart.
“I certainly think with the season in north Queensland, with north Australia (including Northern Territory) holding almost two thirds of the Indigenous population (brings opportunity),” said the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist.
“A lot of my family from my husband’s side, my husband is a Torres Strait Islander, are there, and so for me, I’ll be making sure that I’ve got all of those Indigenous girls that I’m working with this year coming to our trainings and getting engaged.
There is no fear or hesitation from George as she adds her voice to the campaign she deeply believes in, there is only passion.
The real fear comes from inaction, that nothing will change.
Rising Opals star to draw lessons from WNBA activism
For George’s Boomers teammate, Ezi Magbegor, it won’t be the first time this year that she’ll be part of an environment that is “bigger than basketball”.
Magbegor will bring not only her WNBA championship-winning experience to this WNBL season, but lessons learned from her Seattle Storm teammates about using her profile as she becomes a world-class athlete.
“With my team at Seattle, I think everyone were great advocates. Sue (Bird) being so vocal, and Stewie (Breanna Stewart) was on the social justice council with the league. It wasn’t just one person.”
Magbegor has had plenty of time to reflect on her WNBA experiences moving from the “wubble” in Florida to hotel quarantine back in Australia, to another basketball bubble in Queensland.
The 21-year-old, whose parents moved from Nigeria to Australia via New Zealand, has valued the downtime.
“I think the fact that us as players were playing for things that were bigger than basketball, it kind of had an impact on me as well, with the social justice work and everything. Just reflecting back on all that, it was a pretty powerful season,” she said.
It’s momentum Magbegor hopes to see continue here in Australia.
Basketball Australia wants to create a lasting legacy
Rechter does not shy away from the fact there is much more work to be done.
“But if this is something that I can do to accelerate that and put all the foundation principles in place, because I want to think about this from a systems perspective, that is something that I’m really proud of, and will continue to work on.”
Rechter is determined to ensure that RISE UP is not a tokenistic campaign that sits on the shelf.
While there will be visible messaging and conversations, there is also work being done at policy and procedure level so the campaign becomes a whole of business, and a whole of sport approach, beginning with its integration into the WNBL season and continued support of how individual athletes choose to use their voices.
“The [WNBL] clubs have been really fantastic, it’s been an incredible privilege to work with them this year, because we’ve all had to work so hard to get this bubble season up and all had to make compromises, sacrifices, and those clubs have just been really fantastic,” Rechter said.
“From the owners, and the general managers, the coaches, the players, everyone’s behind us to create an environment in which these conversations can take place.”
ABC TV will broadcast two games of the WNBL each week, starting with George and Magbegor’s Melbourne Boomers facing the Southside Flyers at 5:00pm AEDT on November 14.
Kasey Symons is a Research Fellow in the Sport Innovation Research Group at Swinburne University in Melbourne and a co-founder of Siren: A Women in Sport Collective.
The Women’s Big Bash has always been a stage set for upcoming Australian players.
The Sydney Thunder have already played six teenagers in the 2020 WBBL season
The team has focused strongly on youth development over the six years of the WBBL
Thunder coach Trevor Griffin, who previously worked with the English women’s cricket academy, says managing expectations is important with young players
And this year is no different in that respect, with plenty of teenagers enjoying life in the WBBL village.
But there is one team that boasts more teens than any other this season, and that team happens to be leading the ladder.
The Sydney Thunder have consistently tapped into Cricket NSW’s strong pathways over the six seasons the league has been played, blooding young players and evolving their game with the crash and bash format.
Some — like all-rounder Nicola Carey — have even pushed into the Australian team after showstopping performances with the Thunder, and have since gone on to sign elsewhere as a marquee player.
In 2020, the team has six teenagers that have taken the field so far: Phoebe Litchfield, Hannah Darlington, Rachel Trenaman, Anika Learoyd, Gabrielle Sutcliffe and Kate Peterson.
Darlington earned the WBBL Young Gun award last season, after some impressive performances with the ball and in the field.
Litchfield caught the eye of the Australian public with her brilliant batting technique and fearlessness of facing some of the world’s best players at such a young age.
On debut in 2019, she shone with an innings of 26 from 22 balls in a tough night for the Thunder against the Sydney Sixers — she ended last season with an average of 20.77 and a strike-rate of close to 100.
A further two players in the squad are also in their early twenties: Tahlia Wilson and Saskia Horley.
This makes for a bit of a divide between them and the majority of the rest of the team with international experience, in their late twenties and early thirties.
Kate Peterson made her debut this week at Blacktown against the Perth Scorchers — the whole team waited outside her door and cheered as she emerged from a period in isolation.
Peterson — who has already learnt a lot from Sammy-Jo Johnson on the bowling front — said it was a really nice moment and an example of the fun and supportive environment at the club.
“This is probably the longest I’ve been away from my family and away from home,” she said.
Apparently it can get quite noisy on the Thunder’s level of the village hotel, with the older players getting involved with some of the teenager’s antics.
“Most of the time we’re all together in the hallway of our rooms, doing stuff like shooting nerf guns or having water balloon fights,” Peterson said.
“But I guess there are some times where the older ones do have more admin to do.”
Youth development a key for Thunder coach Griffin
Thunder coach Trevor Griffin is really proud of the work being done to continue the development of players that have come through the NSW Breakers and Thunder Academy ranks.
Griffin has previously worked with the England women’s team and academy back in the UK, and also guided the Western Storm to two Super League titles.
He says one of the most important things about working with young players is managing their expectations at the top.
“The best players never get to the top on a straight line and they all have their challenges, dips in form or injuries that they have to overcome.
“The Thunder’s Heather Knight is a great example. She came out and scored 80-odd in her first game and got out very cheaply in the second. That’s the beauty of cricket.”
Part of managing these expectations comes down to communication between the coach and player, ensuring that young ones especially know what their role is in the side.
“For some players, they’re used to playing in every game.
“And while Phoebe Litchfield made her debut in her first season and had a superb tournament, Hannah Darlington spent two-three years on the bench before she made her debut.
“So it’s definitely about helping players understand that it is a learning journey and we need to be really clear about their role, how they fit into the squad and if they’re not being selected, what they need to do and how we can help them with that.
And while they have a lot to learn from the more experienced heads in the team, Griffin says there is always a mutual exchange of ideas.
“They certainly keep us on our toes,” Griffin says, chuckling.
“They bring this energy to the group that the more experienced players love.
“We love to see that freshness and nervous excitement and I think that helps drive the energy within the senior players as well.”
Jesse Hogan will play for Greater Western Sydney next season after Fremantle agreed to trade the forward to the Giants.
The Dockers said it was “mutually agreed” Hogan would move to the Giants after discussions with the player and his management
Hogan played 19 matches for the Dockers across two seasons after being recruited by the Demons
He looms as a potential replacement for Jeremy Cameron if the Giants forward joins the Cats
The Dockers confirmed Hogan would move to his third AFL club, despite the trade period not commencing until Wednesday.
“Following a series of discussions between the club, Jesse and his management, it was mutually agreed that it was in Jesse’s best interests to further his playing career by moving away from WA,” Dockers executive general manager of football Peter Bell said in a statement.
“Due to injury and other factors, he was unable to play at the level we all know he is capable of.
“All parties agree that in Jesse’s long-term interests the preferred option is for him to continue his career at a new club.”
Hogan said he would be “forever in debt” to how Fremantle supported him during his struggles with mental health.
“I wish I was able to contribute a lot more to the football club than I have in my time here,” Hogan said.
“You will not know how disappointed I am that it didn’t work out the way I hoped it would when I got to come to the Dockers.
Hogan looms as a replacement for Jeremy Cameron at the Giants, with the star forward destined to join Geelong.
Contracted at the Dockers until the end of next year, Hogan had trouble living up to expectations after his high-profile move from Melbourne in 2018.
That is how three club CEOs from three different sports have described the winter they’ve just experienced.
“We’re not going to get back to pre-COVID settings until 2023,” Brendon Gale, chief executive of the AFL champions Richmond Tigers, said.
“God forbid that we ever have to do this again,” Rosie King, chief executive of the Super Netball champions the Melbourne Vixens, said.
“Financially it’s just been a wipe-out,” Cameron George, the chief executive of NRL side New Zealand Warriors, said.
All of them looked worn out, none of them wanted 2020 to be repeated, and yet each of them sounded like proud parents when they spoke about their team’s resilience on The Ticket’s annual CEOs panel.
The Tigers and Vixens both spent time in Queensland-based COVID bubbles while the Warriors spent the most time away from home — in lockdown from mid-March to October after travelling to Australia for round one of the NRL, then finding out New Zealand had shut its borders.
‘They just had to work it out’
The Tigers boss said the season “was really quite affirming in that it just highlighted the importance of the environment of the football club”.
“Having a sense of who we are and what we stand for and what makes us ‘us’ [is important] … we tell our own stories,” Gale said.
“We’re not defined by others, so I think as the media becomes more fragmented, and social media — there seems to be a lot of anger — … we’re in a world of perpetual judgments and scrutiny.
Vixens boss King pointed to club-wide welfare as one of the major issues to emerge.
“I think we had a really good set-up for the wellbeing for the athletes,” King said.
“They had independent support, as well as within the hub itself, but maybe not quite as much access for the staff and coaches.
“I think in hindsight … we would make sure that our staff knew that they were part of that wellbeing experience as opposed to it being categorised as ‘athlete wellbeing’.
“There were definitely swings and roundabouts of emotion because you put people together for that period of time and there’s going to be a niggle every now and then.
“At the end of the day, they just had to work it out.”
‘Mentally that’s going to wear on you’
The New Zealand Warriors are still dealing with the mental impact of being away from home for seven months.
While some families joined players in the COVID bubble in Australia, there were others who were not given visas by the Australian Government and had to remain behind.
When the season ended, players flew back to Auckland to enter another 14 days of self-isolation before being able to return home.
“From mid-March right through till mid-October our guys lived a restricted lifestyle, so mentally that’s going to wear on you and it’s quite challenging,” George said.
Losing a coach mid-season added further strain.
“We’re putting a lot of things in place now to make sure we’re coming out of it really well. That’s the most important thing,” George said.
“We’ve put a lot of investment and time and resources into it.”
The Vixens have gone straight into contract negotiations with their players for next season, which King describes as “a really cruel end of the season”.
“What you have is this clash now of having to go into player contracting and player negotiations, so it’s almost like you don’t have a full stop,” she said.
“I was reflecting with our coach and contracting manager … and you could really see the exhaustion that they’ve come out of this experience in Queensland and they really haven’t had the chance to have a proper debrief.”
Financial hit ‘huge’
One of the biggest hits has been to budgets — every team in every competition will be coming to terms with a new reality.
King says the staff at the Vixens all took pay cuts and “threw whatever we needed to” so the team could focus on the competition in Queensland without having to worry about controlling purse strings from a distance.
The rebalancing of the budget and the long-term impact of the season that’s been start now.
Gale said Richmond “can’t sugar coat it”.
For them, the financial hit “has been huge”.
“We’re in the business of mass gathering,” he said.
“So that has a catastrophic impact on our business.
“We’ve had to make really hard decisions about standing down staff and redundancies.
“The next two years are going to be really tough.”
Meanwhile, George said without financial help provided by the NRL and the New Zealand Government, he was fearful the club might fold.
“Financially it’s just been a wipe-out,” he said.
“We haven’t had a home game all year.
“Our members and our corporates thankfully stuck with us.
“There was a percentage that asked for a refund, we get that.
“Thankfully the NRL has really helped the clubs … without that help, honestly, I don’t know whether we’d be here. It’s been really tough.
With a slight pause, a dash of trepidation and a lot of hope, he added: “We’re looking forward to what lies ahead”.
Starting on November 11, each team will play 14 games before a four-game final series, with the grand final scheduled for December 20.
The season will be broadcast on a number of channels and platforms.
The ABC — which last broadcast the WNBL on television in 2014 — will simulcast games at 5:00pm AEDT on Saturday and 3:00pm (AEDT) on Sunday on iview and ABC TV.
Fox Sports will show four games a week live on Foxtel and Kayo, with Kayo also streaming the remaining games live.
BA chief executive Jerril Rechter thanked ABC and Foxtel for their support of the league and said the agreement was significant for women’s basketball in Australia.
“Having all 60 games of the 2020 season shown live across Australia will provide a platform to showcase one of the world’s leading basketball leagues featuring Australia’s best established and emerging athletes.
“This high-profile visibility across Australia will help build upon the popularity and growth of women’s basketball and inspire a whole new generation,” Rechter said.
The director of ABC Regional and Local Judith Whelan welcomed the new deal.
“We’re thrilled to welcome back the WNBL to the ABC — the natural home of women’s sport in Australia,” Whelan said.
“We are also delighted that one of this country’s most experienced and passionate basketball commentators, the ABC’s Corbin Middlemas, will be part of this season’s on-air WNBL commentary team.
“The ABC is looking forward to bringing Australian fans two games per week of one of the best women’s basketball competitions in the world.”
BA’s head of women in basketball Lauren Jackson said the deal would allow more Australians to follow the country’s top basketball talent in a pivotal time for the sport.
“The 2020 WNBL season will double as important preparation for the Australian Opals ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 FIBA Basketball World Cup which will be hosted by Sydney,” Jackson said.
“With all the opportunities that this season presents us, being able to broadcast all our games live across the nation was at the top of the list.”
The ABC’s first game for broadcast will be the Melbourne Boomers against the Southside Flyers at 5:00pm AEDT on November 14.