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Australian rules football, also officially known as Australian football, is a variant of football played outdoors between two teams of 18 players, plus four interchange players, on large oval-shaped grass fields (often modified cricket fields), with a ball in the shape of a prolate spheroid.The game is commonly referred to as football, Aussie rules or (colloquially) as footy. In New South Wales and Queensland, where it has lower popularity, it is often known (erroneously) as AFL, after the Australian Football League.
The primary aim of the game is to score goals by kicking the ball between the middle two posts of the opposing goal. The winner is the team with the higher total score at the end of the fourth quarter. Except for special circumstances, if the score is tied, a draw is declared.
Players may use any part of their body to advance the ball. The primary methods are kicking, handballing and running with the ball. There are rules on how the ball can be handled, for example players running with the ball must intermittently bounce or touch it on the ground. Throwing the ball is not allowed and players must not get caught holding the ball. Unlike most similar sports, there is no offside rule, and players can roam the field freely. Possession of the ball is in dispute at all times except when a free kick is paid. A distinctive feature of the game is the mark, where players anywhere on the field who catch a ball from a kick (with specific conditions), are awarded a free kick. Australian rules is a contact sport, in which players can tackle using their hands or use their whole body to obstruct opponents. Dangerous physical contact (such as a pushing an opponent in the back), interference when marking and deliberately slowing the play are discouraged with free kicks, distance penalties or suspension, depending on the seriousness of the infringement. Frequent physical contests, aerial marking or "speckies", fast movement of both players and the ball and high scoring are the game's main attributes.
Details of the game's origins in Australia are obscure and still the subject of much debate. Australian football became organised in Melbourne in May 1859, when the first laws of the game were published by the Melbourne Football Club.
Australian football is a major participation and spectator sport in Australia. The most prestigious national competition in Australia is the Australian Football League (AFL), which culminates in the annual AFL Grand Final, currently the highest attended club championship event in the world. The AFL has governed the sport nationally since 1993 and internationally since 2005 through the AFL Commission and the AFL Laws of the Game Committee. The game is also played at amateur level in several countries and in several variations.
Both the ball and the field of play are elliptical in shape. No more than 18 players of each team are permitted to be on the field at any time.
Up to four interchange (reserve) players may be swapped for those on the field at any time during the game. In Australian rules terminology, these players wait for substitution "on the bench" – an area with a row of seats on the sideline. In Round 8, 2008 a new rule was introduced for the remainder of the season. The AFL club has to lodge a piece of paper with an attendant AFL official detailing the player to come off the ground and his replacement.
There is no offside rule nor are there set positions in the rules; unlike many other forms of football, players from both teams disperse across the whole field before the start of play. Typically, each team consists of six "forwards", six "defenders", two "wingmen" (or "centres") and four "followers " (or "ruck rovers"), as well as four reserves who can replace any player at any time. There is a rule which stipulates that only four players from each team are allowed within the 50 m centre square before every centre bounce, which occurs at the commencement of each quarter, and to restart the game after a goal is scored. There are also other rules pertaining to allowed player positions during set plays (i.e., after a mark or free kick) and during kick-ins following the scoring of a behind.
A game consists of four quarters and a timekeeper officiates their duration. In professional Australian Football, quarters are 20 minutes plus time on. Time on refers to clock being stopped when the ball is out of play, meaning that an average quarter could last for 27 to 31 minutes. At the end of each quarter, teams change their scoring end.
Games are officiated by umpires. Australian football begins after the first siren, the umpire bounces the ball on the ground (or throws it into the air if the condition of the ground is poor), and the two ruckmen (typically the tallest players from each team), battle for the ball in the air on its way back down.
The ball can be propelled in any direction by way of a foot, clenched fist (called a handball or handpass) or open-hand tap but it cannot be thrown under any circumstances. Throwing is defined in the rules quite broadly but is essentially any open hand disposal that causes the ball to move upward in the air.
A player may run with the ball but it must be bounced or touched on the ground at least once every 15 metres. Opposition players may bump or tackle the player to obtain the ball and, when tackled, the player must dispose of the ball cleanly or risk being penalised for holding the ball. The ball carrier may only be tackled between the shoulders and knees. If the opposition player forcefully contacts a player in the back whilst performing a tackle, the opposition player will be penalised for a push in the back. If the opposition tackles the player with possession below the knees, it is ruled as a low tackle or a trip, and the team with possession of the football gets a free kick.
If a player takes possession of the ball that has travelled more than 15 metres from another player's kick, by way of a catch, it is claimed as a mark and that player may then have a free kick (meaning that the game stops while he prepares to kick from the point at which he marked). Alternatively, he may choose to "play on:" forfeiting the set shot in the hope of pressing an advantage for his team (rather than allowing the opposition to reposition while he prepares for the free kick). Once a player has chosen to play on, normal play resumes and the player who took the mark is again able to be tackled.
There are different styles of kicking depending on how the ball is held in the hand. The most common style of kicking seen in today's game, principally because of its superior accuracy, is the drop punt (the ball is dropped from the hariths down, almost to the ground, to be kicked so that the ball rotates in a reverse end over end motion as it travels through the air). Other commonly used kicks are the torpedo punt (also known as the spiral, barrel, or screw punt; the ball is held at an angle and kicked, which makes the ball spiral in the air, like a rugby throw, resulting in extra distance) and the checkside punt or "banana", kicked across the ball on the outside of the foot is used to curve the ball (towards the right if kicked off the right foot) towards targets that are on an angle. There is also the "snap," which is almost the same as a checkside punt, except that it is kicked off the inside of the foot and curves in the opposite direction. It is also possible to kick the ball so that it bounces along the ground. This is known as a "grubber". Grubbers can bounce in a straight line, or curve to the left or right.
Apart from free kicks or when the ball is in the possession of an umpire for a ball up or throw in, the ball is always in dispute and any player from either side can take possession of the ball.
A goal is scored when the football is propelled through the goal posts at any height (including above the height of the posts) by way of a kick from the attacking team. It may fly through on the full or bounce through, but must not have been touched, on the way, by any player from either team. A goal cannot be scored from the foot of an opposition (defending) player.
A behind is scored when the ball passes between a goal post and a behind post at any height, or if the ball hits a goal post, or if an attacking player sends the ball between the goal posts by touching it with any part of the body other than a foot. A behind is also awarded to the attacking team if the ball touches any part of an opposition player, including his foot, before passing between the goal posts. When an opposition player deliberately scores a behind for the attacking team (generally as a last resort, because of the risk of their scoring a goal) this is termed a rushed behind. Before the start of the 2009 season, this would be the same score as a regular behind. However, because in the 2008 grand final, the Hawthorn Football Club rushed 11+ behinds a new rule was introduced stating that the behind will be counted and the player that rushed the behind will also concede a free kick in the goal square.
A goal is worth 6 points whereas a behind is worth 1 point. The goal umpire signals a goal with two hands raised at elbow height, a behind with one hand, and then confirms the signal with the other goal umpire by waving flags above his head.
The team that has scored the most points at the end of play wins the game. If the scores are level on points at the end of play, then the game is a draw; extra time applies only during finals matches in some competitions.
As an example of a score report, consider a match between St Kilda Football Club and the Sydney Swans. St Kilda's score of 15 goals and 11 behinds equates to 101 points. Sydney's score of eight goals and ten behinds equates to a 58 point tally. St Kilda wins the match by a margin of 43 points. Such a result would be written as "St Kilda 15.11 (101) defeated Sydney Swans 8.10 (58)" and said "St Kilda fifteen eleven, one hundred and one defeated Sydney Swans eight ten, fifty-eight."
Players generally wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt called a "jumper" or "Guernsey"
In the sport of Australian rules football, each of the eighteen players in a team are assigned to a particular named position on the field of play. These positions describe both the player's main role and by implication their location on the ground. As the game has evolved, tactics and team formations have changed, and the names of the positions and the duties involved have evolved too. In total there are 18 positions in Australian rules football, not including 4 (sometimes 6 - 8) interchange players who may come onto the ground at any time during play to replace another player.
The fluid nature of the modern game means the positions in football are not as formally defined as in sports such as rugby or American football. Even so, most players will play in a limited range of positions throughout their career, as each position requires a particular set of skills. Footballers who are able to play comfortably in numerous positions are referred to as utility players.
The fullback position has traditionally been a purely defensive role, with the aim of preventing the full-forward from marking the ball and scoring. However, in recent times, where the ability to move the ball out of defense and down the field quickly has become a more important tactic, the fullback often starts a chain of passes up the ground. The defensive aspect of the position remains important, with the ability to accelerate and change direction quickly. Spoiling the ball is also of utmost importance. The fullback often kicks the ball back into play after a point has been scored, although some teams prefer a midfielder or the small back pockets for this role, freeing the (typically taller) fullback player to attempt to mark the kick in. All and all they have the skills to play any position on the field.
The back pocket refers to a position on the field deep in defence.
Back pocket players need to have good spoiling skills and usually, quality back-pockets are noted for their hardness. Back pockets generally play on the smaller, faster forward pockets and let the fullback play on the stronger full forward.
Some back-pockets are small, fast players, whose role is to clear a loose ball from defence or play on a forward of similar size and speed. Others are 'mid-sized' defenders, with enough height and strength to contest or spoil marks and enough mobility to fulfil the first role.
Back pocket is not an exclusive position. Tall defenders (i.e. full back/centre half-back) may play in the back pocket to match up effectively on a tall forward playing in the forward pocket.
The centre half-back ideally needs to be considerably strong, tall, fast and courageous. Centre half-back is considered a key position in defence. There are two main styles of centre half-back. The more defensive, one-on-one centre half-backs, stick to the centre half forwards and try to take them out of the game. Other teams use a more attacking and loose (i.e. not marking his man closely) player at CHB that will try and rebound the ball out of defence and make the transition into attack a lot quicker. A traditional centre half-back is a mixture of the two, however in the modern game there is not much difference between a centre half-back and a full-back. A full-back will often play against the centre half-forward if they suit their opponent.
The half-back flank is very similar to the back pocket position. However, a true half-back flanker is more attacking and concentrates on rebounding the ball out of the defensive 50. Sometimes half-back flankers even forgo their defensive duties in order to be more attacking. When a half-back flanker is attacking, they play like a wing-back in soccer (or an attacking full-back), and if they are more defensive then they play like a traditional full-back in soccer.
The midfield consists of the centre and the two wingmen. Centres are normally able to obtain the ball, be a link between defence and attack and possess very good kicking or hand-ball skills (usually on both sides of the body). They are also usually considered the "inside" midfielders, due to their responsibility in retrieving the football in close. Wingmen (of which there are two, on the left and right side) have a high level of stamina whilst having similar skills to that of a centre. They are usually considered the "outside" midfielders, due to the extra space and freedom they create for themselves. They often wait outside clearance situations for the ball to be 'fed' to them.
The Centre half-forward's role is usually the most demanding of any player on field, with a tall frame, good marking skills, strength and most importantly, athleticism, required.
Standing wide of the Centre Half-forward, the Half-Forward flankers provide an alternate target for balls coming from the midfield.
Half-Forward flankers usually move the ball into the forward line along the flanks. They might kick the ball into the forward line, pass the ball to another running player, or have a shot at goal themselves. Nowadays, Half-Forward flankers usually push into the midfield, and rather than being a specialist position, Half-Forward flank can be played by centres, wingers, rovers/ruck rovers, or even attacking Half-Back flankers.
Full Forwards are good at one-on-one contests with the opposition and are the main target in the forward line when attacking. This means they can produce mass amounts of goals in a season or match. Contests in the goalsquare require the strength and weight to be able to jostle or wrestle opponents to front position and keep fullbacks at bay and not as much running is required as midfielders. As a result, full-forwards are typically both tall and powerfully built.
As well as contesting marks with their strength, Full Forwards will try to run into space to shake off their defender and take an uncontested mark (this is known as 'leading', 'leading for the ball' or 'leading into space'). This means that the Full Forward needs to be fast, but only in short bursts. In modern times, some teams have experimented by playing a smaller, faster player (possibly a former forward pocket or flanker) at Full Forward, in order to beat the defender with speed rather than strength. In the case of Mark Williams (Hawthorn) and Brad Johnson (Western Bulldogs), this has been extremely successful.
The forward pocket is designed as either a role for a second full forward (also known as a third key forward) or for players who are smaller but faster and more agile and capable of kicking brilliantly on the run (this is the more traditional forward pocket). Many forward pockets, like rovers, are quick thinking and opportunistic crumbing players. This means that they need to be short enough to pick up after it hits the ground from a contest, think and move quickly to evade potential tackles, and kick or set up a goal.
Like Back Pockets, some Forward Pockets are like medium sized Full Forwards- tall and strong enough to contest marks, and mobile enough to crumb the ball. Some players in this mould, such as Russell Robertson, are capable of playing Full Forward outright.
Crumbing Forward Pockets don't exclusively crumb the ball. Sometimes, they lead for the ball like Full Forwards, so they have to be competent at marking the ball. Some Forward Pockets can even jump so high that they can contest marks, despite their lack of height.
The followers are 3 different roles, the ruck, rover and ruck-rover.
Also known as the on-ball division, the followers consist of three players - a ruckman, ruck rover, and rover. They are known as followers because they have traditionally been used as players that follow the ball all around the ground, as opposed to playing in a set position (although with modern Australian rules football, there is a decreased emphasis on set positions. That said, followers do cover much more ground than any other player on the field).
Ruckman - his role is to contest with the opposing ruckman at centre-bounces that take place at the start of each quarter or after each goal, and at stoppages (i.e., boundary throw ins, ball ups). The ruckman usually uses his height (typically players are over 195 cm tall) to palm/tap the ball down so that a ruck rover or rover can run onto it - similar to an NBA center at the tip-off. Traditionally, ruckman have simply been tall players with limited skill and speed, whose only job was to provide a contest in the ruck. However, in recent times ruckmen have become faster and more skilled, so they can play as an extra midfielder in between ruck contests.
The tallest AFL players ever are ruckmen Aaron Sandilands (Fremantle) and Peter Street (Western Bulldogs), who both measure in at 211cm. Before them, the record was held by Matthew 'Spider' Burton (Fremantle/North Melbourne) at 210cm.
Ruck-rover - his role is to be directly beneath the flight of the ball when a ruckman taps the ball down, allowing an easy take away, or clearance, from a stoppage. Typically, players are not as tall as the ruckman, ranging from 170-190cm in height.
Rover - his role is to lurk around centre bounces and stoppages to receive the ball from a ruckman or ruck rover and complete a clearance. Rovers are typically the smallest player on the ground. They are said to be disappearing at elite level in favour of taller ruck-rovers. In modern football, the rover, ruck rover, centreman and wingmen are often grouped together as midfielders.
Taggers, also known as "run-with" players, are not as highly skilled as other players on the field, nor do they have any set position. Their role is to shut down, follow, run with, mark and sometimes 'scrag' (illegally hold) their chosen opponent. They are considered "negative" players, and are often used on players that are deemed to be the most dangerous and have the most impact in a game. Taggers have only really been used in recent years, and such players to have earned "tag" status include Ben Cousins, Chris Judd, James Hird, Nathan Buckley, Jason Akermanis, Gary Ablett, Jr., and Jimmy Bartel, all players who are capable of destruction if they are not tightly manned. Jason Akermanis has criticised one of his most frequent tagging opponents, Jared Crouch, for the negative influence he has, not so much on Akermanis' game, but the game of Australian rules football in general.
Taggers possess a high level of fitness and can run with such star players all day, and often players from an athletic background that do not possess silky skills will be assigned to tag a player. Some players, such as Cameron Ling, who made a name for themselves as taggers have 'stepped up' and become players who frequently get tagged themselves.
Interchange, also often known as "the bench". Players named on the interchange bench are not permitted to enter the field of play unless substituting for a player during the game.
Up to four players can be named on the bench, this number has steadily increased over the decades from a single player in the 1930s. Representative teams (such as State of Origin teams or honorific teams such as the AFL Team of the Century), practise and exhibition matches often feature an extended interchange bench of up to six or eight players.
Up until the 1970s, the single interchange player, known as the "nineteenth man" or the "reserve" acted only as a substitution for an injured or out of form player; the player substituted out of the game could take no further part. Since the 1970s, interchange has increased from two to three to four players, and substitutions may be made as often as the coach wishes, with players allowed to be moved onto and off from the ground for several rests during the game.
There are very few players in the AFL league who possess the skill and poise to be able to consistently perform to a very high standard in a number of various positions. Some of these players do not receive the recognision they deserve, while others, such as Matthew Pavlich and Adam Goodes, are praised for their versatility and ability to influence a game from any position.
Traditionally, a Utility player is an unheralded, but nonetheless important player. He doesn't dominate one position, instead, he is like a 'spare parts' player because he can fill in at a variety of positions and do a very good job in each.
Nowadays, the need for more versatility in players has resulted in many players 'doubling up' their roles. Practically every midfielder can play Forward Pocket, Back Pocket, Half-Forward Flank or Half-Back Flank. Most, if not all, starting ruckmen can play as tall forwards, or in rarer cases, tall defenders. Some tall defenders can play as tall forwards and vice-versa. This means that most AFL players have a specialist position and one or two 'fill-in' positions.
One exception to this would be a player who is actually a specialist at two positions, not just a fill-in (i.e. Adam Hunter, the Eagles' best Centre-Half Back, is also one of their most dominant Full Forwards). Another exception would be midfielders, such as James Hird and Anthony Koutoufides, who have the height and strength to play key positions. This requires an extremely rare blend of skills and abilities.
Australian Rules worldwide
Australian rules football is played at an amateur level in various countries around the world. Over 30 countries are home to clubs or leagues who play regularly, with around 20 that have either affiliation or working agreements with the AFL. There have been several players in the VFL/AFL who were born outside Australia and since 1982, an increasing number of players have been recruited from outside Australia through initiatives such as the Irish experiment and more recently, international scholarship programs.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the game spread with the Australian Diaspora to areas such as New Zealand and South Africa, however this growth went into rapid decline following World War I. After World War II, the sport experienced a small amount of growth in the Pacific region, particularly in Nauru, Papua New Guinea and later New Zealand.
Most of the current amateur clubs and leagues in existence have developed since the 1980s, when leagues began to be established in North America, Europe and Asia. As the size of the Australian diaspora has increased, so has the number of clubs outside Australia. This expansion has been further aided by multiculturalism and assisted by exhibition matches as well as exposure generated through players who have converted to and from other football codes. In Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States there are many thousands of players.
The AFL became the de facto governing body when it pushed for the closure of the International Australian Football Council in 2002.