Australian Rules Football is a complicated sport for newcomers to wrap their head around, but a good place to start is with AFL player positions. With 18 players on the field for each team at any one time, it can sometimes be hard to figure out who should be where — even for people who know the game — but here are the basics.
Theoretically, each team should have six players starting in the forward line. These are traditionally split into two lines of three — in the group closest to goal, the middle player is the Full Forward while the other two are the Forward Pockets, while closer to the middle of the ground you have the Centre Half Forward with two Half Forward Flanks on either side. Typically, the Full Forward and Centre Half Forward will be the taller marking targets, and are known as key position players.
However, it’s important to note that modern day forward line structures vary significantly from days gone past. Nowadays, there are an infinite number of different forward setups which a team can choose to organise, but the basic idea of six forwards is generally stuck to — at least when games begin.
The engine room of any AFL team is the midfielders, as is the case in many sports. For the most part, what a midfielder does is pretty simple — they follow the ball all over the field, meaning these players are generally the fittest on the team. As is the case in many sports, it’s tough to be competitive without a good midfield, which is why many of the best teams in the AFL are so strong in this area.
Within the midfield, you have a couple of positions. The ruckman is often the tallest player in the team and is responsible for contesting ball-ups and boundary throw-ins, and at the beginning of quarters and after goals, this player is surrounded by three midfielders who will go wherever the ball goes.
The final two midfielders play on the wing, which basically just refers to either side of the field. These players also tend to follow the ball up and down the field, though they will generally stick predominantly to their side of the field.
In many sports, the basis of a good offence is a strong defence, and this could certainly be said for the AFL. Many forward thrusts begin in the back half, and having at least a couple of players down back with good leg speed and foot skills is imperative.
Generally there are six defenders, and they are technically responsible for one opposing forward. However, in the modern-day AFL, teams often play more of a zone-based defence and it’s not uncommon to see defenders help one another out when they’re able. You’ll also see players from further up the ground – often wingers — drop back into defence, while when the ball is down back you’ll also have a host of midfielders clogging up space.
Fundamentally, AFL is a game played with a 6-6-6 formation. There are six forwards, six midfielders and six defenders. But while teams are required by the rules to begin with this setup after goals are scored and at the beginning of quarters, they’re under no obligation to stick to it at any other time. As a result, you’ll regularly see a different number of players in all parts of the field depending where the ball is, and positional definitions are far less stringent than they once were.