By ATARA THENABADU
The AFL 2019 season kicks off tonight with Carlton and Richmond taking on each other in front of a crowd expected to top 80,000 fans.
Here are the top four things to look out for in the coming year.
1) New rules
After last year’s continual debate over high congestion on the field, the AFL brought in several new rules.
The introduction of a starting formation, commonly referred to as the 6-6-6 rule, aims to ensure teams can get clean possession from the bounce before being swarmed by the opposition.
So far, the rule seems to be working ok, with stats showing an increase in scoring compared to JLT 2018.
Another rule that has caused debate among AFL coaches and senior players is the runner rule, which means runners will only be able to convey messages after a goal has been scored, before play restarts.
Coaches such as Chris Fagan from the Brisbane Lions and Alan Richardson from St Kilda have voiced concern.
They say their younger teams will struggle to implement game plans without continual reinforcement.
Senior players, such as Jordan Lewis from the Melbourne Demons, said this rule would strengthen “mature” teams, giving them a potential “five or 10 percent extra [advantage]”.
AFL Football Operations Manager Steve Hocking said the runner rule did leave coaches “a bit nude” but he had no plans to alter the rule.
2) Draft picks
Experts predicted the 2018 draft would produce high-quality players to rival the famous SuperDraft of 2001.
The No.1 draft pick, Sam Walsh, impressed the crowd at Princes Park in Carlton’s first JLT match against Essendon, with 28 disposals to his name.
Much like in 2001, some teams have been able to pick promising players from further down the draft.
North Melbourne’s father-son selection, Bailey Scott, who was picked 49, is already getting praise from his captain Jack Ziebell.
Ziebell said it felt like Scott had been in the system for “10 years” and was seriously in the selection frame for early in the season.
3) Coaches under pressure
A number of coaches are expected to face extreme pressure this season.
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson’s position has been under threat after registering a winning percentage of just 33.6 percent last year.
Richardson’s leadership has already been dealt a blow with the Saints experiencing a large number of injuries.
The most recent is key defender Jake Carlisle, who has had surgery for a dislodged disc in his back, sidelining him for the majority of the coming year.
After being declared a top four club by CEO Matt Finnis last year, the Saints will be looking for early winning performances.
4) Clubs on the rise
The Adelaide Football Club have been tipped by commentators such as Kane Cornes and Shane Crawford to finish in the top four this year, after a difficult 2018.
After winning their JLT games against Port Adelaide (by 17 points) and Greater Western Sydney (by 18 points), they have sent clear warning signs to the rest of the competition.
Another club predicted to rise is the Brisbane Lions, a team which has been absent from September action since 2009.
Ever since Chris Fagan took over in 2017, the Lions have continually improved, being more competitive within games as well as signing star players.
After producing wins against Hawthorn (by 42 points) and Melbourne (by 7 points), it safe to say that the Lions are on the right track to re-enter September.