15/08/2022

Matt Guelfi and David Zaharakis returned from injury in the VFL. Photo: Essendon FC

AFL coaches have thrown their support behind the alterations of new VFL zoning rules, with Essendon coach Ben Rutten calling the game “pretty difficult to watch” with the original anti-density regulations in place.

AFL coaches have thrown their support behind the alterations of new VFL zoning rules, with Essendon coach Ben Rutten calling the game “pretty difficult to watch” with the original anti-density regulations in place.

The move to water down restrictions across the field has come after widespread backlash from coaches and spectators alike as the experiment moved the VFL game further away from the pace and style that an AFL match is played at.

Under the original rules, three players of each team had to reset within each 50 metre arc during throw-ins and kick-ins. One of those pairs at each end was also required to station in the goal squares, 100 metres away from the ball at times.

Rutten was one of a number of AFL coaches who criticised these parameters, and spoke to The Inner Sanctum about the alterations.

“It’s a sensible decision,” he said.

“It’s fine to experiment with the rules in the VFL, [but] it’s a difficult game to coach, difficult game to play, difficult game to umpire certainly, and it’s pretty difficult to watch at times too.”

The altered specifics now in place for this weekend of practice matches and the season proper will see anti-density rules relaxed to become one player from each side stationed inside the 50 metre arcs during boundary throw-ins. Kick-ins and ball-ups will have no zoning rules in place.

“The fact they’re making some amendments and the AFL is showing some flexibility there is a good thing”, Rutten stated.

“It certainly makes it more AFL-like for us developing our players, which is really important for us as a football club at the moment.”

With 13 players aged 21 and under, Rutten and the Essendon VFL coaching staff have worked on new ways to mirror an AFL experience at the lower level throughout practice matches.

With anti-density rules in place, young players won’t be getting the same workloads as they would in an AFL game, and will also need to alter running patterns when they play at the top level.

Tom Hird has been trialled in the midfield, while Alec Waterman has been moved to half back in efforts to attain a workload that he will be experiencing this weekend when he makes his AFL debut.

Jake Stringer and David Zaharakis are two veterans coming off preseason injuries that the Bombers have brought back through the VFL system.

This has been a challenge for coaching staff with the VFL and AFL games differing so severely at this early juncture with other experienced campaigners Matt Guelfi and Andrew Phillips making their case for selection after injury layoffs.

“[Zaharakis] had his first game back [in the VFL] last week and he’s pulled up really well,” he said.

“Similar to Jake [Stringer], it’s so early in the season and with our more senior players we need them to be more confident coming in for the rest of season.”

Rutten eased Stringer through an extra game of VFL action in his comeback from an Achilles issue, and he will make his first AFL appearance for the season this weekend against St Kilda.

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