While Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley and AFL legend Leigh Matthews headed those saying the rule should simply be enforced without a warning, the AFL has opted to stick with the warning system and do not believe it will be exploited by clubs.
Teams have 40 seconds to get players in six-six-six formation – with six in each arc, four in the centre bounces and one on each wing – although one club suggested this was really about 55 seconds in practice.
The second infringement after a warning would see a free kick paid at the centre bounce.
Buckley said it was “an absolute joke” that there was a warning rather than a free kick, and that the warning gave teams an incentive to roll the dice and exploit the rule.
The AFL notes that the umpires can pay a 50-metre penalty – for a shot on goal straight in front – if they can see that a club is intentionally exploiting the rule in certain situations.
Matthews said while he understood why there was a warning initially, three rounds was sufficient for teams to adjust to centre-bounce infringements. “I don’t think you need a season of warnings,” he said.
Matthews pointed out that the AFL had extended the time after a goal (previously 30 seconds) to make it easier.
Buckley told SEN radio on Monday that there was no need for a warning, which could be exploited.
“It’s exploitable, that’s why it’s an absolute joke to have a warning … How can you have a warning?
“Why wouldn’t you, with eight seconds left in the game, roll the dice?
“If you get away with it then great, you’ve got an advantage, and if you don’t, well, then it’s only a warning.”
Buckley’s comment was referring to St Kilda’s warning with eight seconds left, when the Saints had too many forwards.
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson dismissed any conspiratorial suggestion that the Saints deliberately tried to hold up the game and guarantee the umpire threw up the ball at the restart, instead of risking a poor bounce that could cost them valuable seconds.
“There’s an umpire and that’s his job … to look and make sure there’s six of us and six of the opposition at both ends,” he said.
“You’ll never get away with it. That was just a blue by us.”
Recently retired umpire Troy Panell backed Buckley’s comments, saying that warnings only put more stress on officials.
“If you’re going to have a law, enforce it,” Pannell told The Age.
“What happens in a tight game, players and clubs will manipulate it just to get a warning to slow things down.
“If it’s a free, it’s a free – just pay it.”
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age. He writes news, commentary and analysis on a variety of other sports.
Sam McClure won the Clinton Grybas rising star award at the AFL media association awards in 2015.