Former footballers and sporting icons were left unimpressed as the AFL’s pre-season experiment flopped at the first hurdle.
Just 10,253 fans attended Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium on Thursday evening for the launch of AFLX, the seven-a-side and highly-altered form of Australian Rules football that will run over three consecutive nights.
Six AFL teams will play on each evening in a round-robin format, with Adelaide winning the first ever ‘grand final’ by eight points against Geelong.
But the countless modifications to rules, severely depleted teams and peculiar atmosphere – which saw music played during matches and commentary broadcast over the venue’s PA system – did not go down well with the majority of fans.
Most of the seven 20-minute matches were devoid of big marks and contests between players, resulting in a fast and free-flowing product that resembled basketball at times.
The quality of the stadium’s surface was also poor, while the AFL was forced to change the balls from silver to yellow to help fans and television viewers see the ball better.
Hawthorn legend Shane Crawford posted on Twitter: “No tackling. No high marks. No contact. Worth a try but not for me #AFLX #remindsmeofcirclework.”
Cricket hero Shane Warne shared a similar thought.
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) February 15, 2018
Others were far more critical but those inside the AFL bubble remained positive.
Adelaide player Harry Dear told the Seven Network “it was tricky to get a grip of” but added “it was exciting”, while teammate Jake Kelly said he struggled to hear his teammates during matches because of the music being played but that he enjoyed the contest.
Geelong started Thursday night’s proceedings with a 12-point victory over Port Adelaide, a clash in which Zac Guthrie made history as the first goalkicker in AFLX.
Riley Bonner replied for the Power with the first ‘Zooper Goal’ – 10 points were given to goals kicked outside the 40m arc – but the Cats had the last laugh.
Adelaide, which played a youthful side all evening, then proved far too good for Collingwood before Geelong won again, this time against Fremantle.
Adelaide’s clash with West Coast was probably the highlight of the evening – the Crows won a close encounter by seven points – before Fremantle and Collingwood emerged victorious in dead rubbers.
Don Pyke’s Crows burst out of the blocks in the final, with ‘Zooper Goals’ to Patrick Wilson and Tom Doedee giving them a 20-point lead inside the first minute.
The Cats, playing a strong side that included the likes of Mitch Duncan and Tom Hawkins, battled hard from there but never hit the lead as Adelaide held on for victory.
Friday February 16, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne 7.10pm (AEDT) – Carlton v Melbourne (Pool A) 7.38pm – Hawthorn v Essendon (Pool B) 8.06pm – North Melbourne v Carlton (Pool A) 8.34pm – Essendon v St Kilda (Pool B) 9.02pm – Melbourne v North Melbourne (Pool A) 9.30pm – St Kilda v Hawthorn (Pool B)
10.03pm – Final: Winner of Pool A v Winner of Pool B
Saturday February 17, Allianz Stadium, Sydney 4.10pm (AEDT) – Greater Western Sydney v Richmond (Pool A) 4.38pm – Sydney v Western Bulldogs (Pool B) 5.06pm – Richmond v Brisbane (Pool A) 5.34pm – Western Bulldogs v Gold Coast (Pool B) 6.02pm – Brisbane v Greater Western Sydney (Pool A) 6.30pm – Gold Coast v Sydney (Pool B)
7.03pm – Final: Winner of Pool A v Winner of Pool B