6-6-6, the number of change

When 6-6-6 was introduced for 2019, the cue card talking points centred around it being an attempt to create space and promote attacking play.

My read on the situation is that it’s clearly an effort – combined with no runners allowed on the field until after a goal – to take power away from coaches and simplify the game towards the product of a generation ago.

It was enjoyable watching coaches try a whole range of different options. Whether it be North Melbourne starting four wingers for a stretch, teams using extra defenders as attacking options, or even the added suspense at the end of games when a side is desperately trying to hold on to a lead from the final centre bounce, all that and more is gone now.

Nevertheless, 6-6-6 still provides new wrinkles in the game to identify, and through the JLT Series I’ve noticed three repeatable themes.

Fixture_1

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Hit-outs to advantage are vital – especially if clubs keep the centre bounces at four-on-four

Alternate Title: Gawn is going to be even more formidable than before

During the pre-season, clubs have – by and large – opted not to run their wingers, half forwards, or half backs into the centre square with the same ferocity as previous years.

That allows more room for the midfielders to go to work, and how they work all depends on the service given to them by their ruckman.

The first half of Port Adelaide v North on Saturday was startling for the sheer space on offer. Even allowing for the lower intensity of a pre-season game, it featured passages of play which leave a stoppage coach tearing his hair out.

Note how when a midfielder receives a hit-out cleanly – whether it’s from their own ruckman or sharked – it’s off to the races almost every single time.

It naturally raises the question of how to counter a clean hit-out to advantage at centre bounces. If your midfielders can’t apply the required pressure to prevent a quick clearance, a solution of sorts may lie with the defensive unit.

High IQ intercept defenders become even more important

Alternate Title: Why Richmond will require minimal adjustment time

There’s always unintended consequences from a rule change.

In previous years, yes teams may have started with seven or eight defenders. But straight from the centre bounce, most would stream into the middle. That would leave potentially a three-on-four, or four-on-five close to goal.

Now if it’s going to stay at six-on-six, what you’re left with is more bodies inside forward 50. In turn this leaves more opportunities for intercept marks from a well-drilled defensive unit.

Let’s use Richmond’s back six to explain. With Rance, Astbury, Grimes and Broad all patrolling, between them they have a knack of knowing when to leave their direct opponent to spoil and impact a forward entry.

From centre bounces, they’ll all start closer to each other than normal, in theory making it easier to work as a unit – at least to start the year.

To begin with, we’ll likely see sides with greater continuity in their back six reap the rewards, but in turn I believe we’ll see sides attempt to counter a versatile back six with a versatile forward six of their own.

Having multiple marking targets becomes more valuable

Alternate Title: Why Richmond will require minimal adjustment time (probably a bit lazy reusing the same alternate title)

Let’s use North’s forward line as an example. Mainly because this is a North blog so it makes sense to.

The strategy late in 2018 was pretty simple. Clear out as much space for Brown’s leading patterns and look for him frequently when going inside 50.

If North goes to Brown with similar regularity from centre bounces this year, it’s going to be rebound city from siren to siren. It’ll be too easy for defenders to read the play and peel off Ziebell, Wood and co.

However. If midfielders set the tone early and use Ziebell and Wood frequently – perhaps even using Brown as a decoy at times – suddenly defending becomes tougher. Can they risk shading towards Brown when Ziebell is going to be leading into dangerous space? Is it worth banking on Wood not being used when Higgins is streaming out of the middle?

To circle back to Richmond again, it’s another reason why I’m not overly concerned at 6-6-6 changing much with Tom Lynch now available. Between Lynch, Riewoldt, Caddy (when he returns) and Martin in his forward stints, there’s plenty to keep defenders guessing.

West Coast with Kennedy and Darling, Adelaide with Walker and Jenkins, GWS with Cameron and Himmelberg – a handful of sides who should also, in theory, benefit from 6-6-6.

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Apart from all the above, there’s one crucial point remaining. Teams are holding back from showing their full deck of cards, and the great unknown is what that will change.

Will we see both wingers standing as far to the defensive side as possible and immediately dropping back to create a seventh and eighth defender? How about five forwards all right up on the 50 and immediately clearing out to the wing to – in theory – make it a one-on-one battle coming out from the goalsquare?

The purposes of coaches is to bend play in their team’s favour as much as possible. And while 6-6-6 has robbed them of some flexibility, there’s also been a whole summer to devise plans. We’ll see what those are come Round 1.

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