After a relatively short gestation period, some limited trials at VFL and AFL level and aborted start at the end of last year, AFLX is finally at our feet. Whether the footballing public wants it or not.
Ryan Buckland at The Roar had a good take on the competition, in much more depth than we will discuss here.
It doesn’t feel that AFLX is built for full-time, professional, AFL players. At first glance the optimal gameplay strategy appears to be to use the kickout to try to hit a leading forward between the halfway line (at about 50m) and the 40m arc. This is a relatively regular task at AFL level, and a quality leading or contested marking player should dominate with this strategy. If two teams key into this strategy, with say two near-sideline contested mark options and a leading target through the middle, with a couple of safety leads closer to the defensive goal for spacing purposes, it could turn into a bland shootout where the ball doesn’t hit the deck. We think it might look a bit like this from the kick-out:
Beyond this tactic, look for the wrap-around handball to a team’s long kicks for goals anywhere between the 40 and 55 metre lines. The worst position to take a mark on the ground will be between the 30 and 40 metre marks, so look for sides to potentially pass backwards from there to try to get higher scores if they’ve decided to take it seriously.
The real opportunity, and perhaps major value, of AFLX is as a development tool both domestically and abroad. The game is seemingly the successor to Metro Footy, which is somewhat popular in the US. There are a lot more rectangular fields in the world than ovals, and a game that can utilise that space might help the international spread of the code. Other codes with a rectangular field, from the rugbys to American Football and a few in-between, have struggled to do so to a major degree (rugby 7s aside), but to grow the game it is worth a shot.
The other potential value is in country Australian towns that can’t pull a 22, or even an 18, player squad each weekend. Getting seven to ten players together makes football a comparable challenge to say getting a basketball side together. Every time we drive through Victoria, we notice the empty ovals littering towns off the beaten track – the introduction of AFLX might be enough to keep football around in some form. There’s some international precedent – six-man football (and its seven and nine man variants) is used in small towns to keep high school football alive, and has produced some pro players in the past.
Also on the domestic side, short form competitions might be a good jumping point for schools in non-traditional Australian Football states, with the 20 minutes (or so) runtime perfect for a game at the end of a skills session as a introduction to football. It could also be used to create quick one or two day football festivals in remote Australia, where the elite can gather just a couple of times a year for a series of AFLX games, rather than just one or two full footy games.
In summary, a form of football that has limited players, a shorter game length and can be played on a smaller rectangular field has merit at face value. However, whether this will translate to the professional level is unsure at best.
Which teams are even trying?
We’ve used our valuation system, Player Approximate Value (PAV), to compare the named AFLX squads to how valuable these players were in 2017.
The table below is colour-coded by venue and by pool (one team from each pool makes the local grand final) and then ranked by how valuable the players in each squads are on average.
The Western Bulldogs are our AFLX tanking champions, with a 12-man squad containing Jack Redpath and virtually the least experienced 11 other players on their list. They fundamentally appear to not care about this concept. The other two clubs who are seemingly the least interested are Adelaide and West Coast, whose very inexperienced or fringe squads are unlikely to challenge Collingwood in making the final at Hindmarsh Stadium.
At the top end of the teams is North Melbourne who have named, player for player, the strongest looking squad. North should make the final over a semi-interested Demons and disengaged Carlton. The other finalist, from Pool B, will emerge from probably the most interesting, high quality and competitive pool of the six. That of course depends on the exact lineups and tactics the three teams use to approach the contest. The Saints’ larger squad may give them a depth edge, but given that these sides may only play a total of forty minutes of football across the night, the advantage that depth might give is unknown.
When we compare the best 7 players, i.e. the strongest possible lineups, Geelong’s side is by a small margin the most talented, and they should have the edge over Fremantle and Port Adelaide to set up a final with Collingwood in Adelaide. Port Adelaide, however, are capable of fielding a fairly handy best-7 if they so choose.
At the Sydney Football Stadium most of the teams don’t look much chop. The Swans’ 20-person squad looks easily the strongest, but it remains to be seen how much they actually play the likes of Sam Reid, Dane Rampe and Jake Lloyd. Assuming they walk over the Dogs, the Suns should provide more of a contest.
In the other pool, the Lions look to be a bit better than Richmond and GWS, even without factoring in Christensen who is significantly better than his 0 PAV of 2017 when fit. GWS are fielding Tomlinson, Scully and Whitfield but the calibre drops away swiftly after these three. The Tigers are fielding pretty fringe players headlined by Dan Butler.
If we had to guess finalists in each city, they would be:
- Adelaide: Geelong v Collingwood
- Melbourne: North Melbourne v St Kilda
- Sydney: Sydney v Brisbane
Let us leave you with one thought, and one piece of advice. This is perhaps the stupidest thing we have tried to predict or preview. For good quality footy, watch the AFLW this weekend instead.