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From the Sunday Herald-Sun
Reported by Lauren Wood
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A SECRET trial of the AFL’s concept game, AFLX, conducted in Albert Park can be revealed.

Players from VFL teams Port Melbourne and Coburg faced off behind closed doors at Lakeside Stadium on Friday night.

It was the league’s third official trial of the shortened version of the game, inspired by Twenty20 cricket.

Matches are played on a soccer pitch, with smaller teams and reduced playing time.

The high-scoring affair, watched by the Sunday Herald Sun, appeared to be overseen by at least one AFL official, with members of the official supporter feedback group, AFL Fan Focus, invited to attend and share their immediate impressions.

Lakeside Stadium in Albert Park. Picture Supplied

In the trial, Port Melbourne and Coburg played four 10-minute quarters, two of them with eight players a side and two with seven.

Previous trials — including one involving North Melbourne at Arden St — have featured only seven players a side.

Five-time premiership player and former Geelong and Adelaide coach Gary Ayres — current senior coach of Port Melbourne — was recently approached by the AFL to see whether his team would be interested in taking part in the trial.

And, while he recommended a few tweaks, he was largely glowing in praise of what he saw.

“It is very, very fast. It’s very much about high-scoring, fast play,” he told the Sunday Herald Sun yesterday. “If you get burnt on a turnover or a poor kick or poor decision, generally you get scored against and scored against very quickly. It’s a bit like (the ball is) up one end one second and then up the other end in another.

“If you can retain possession, you can certainly score and score quite heavily.”

Trial of a new version of AFL football played on soccer pitch at Lakeside Stadium. Picture: Supplied

Ayres said players who took part, including former Richmond and North Melbourne AFL player Robin Nahas, enjoyed their first taste of AFLX.

But the length of the quarters was one area he thought could be tweaked.

“On reflection, I thought maybe 12 minutes (per quarter) would be good for the players,” he said.

“Ten minutes does go really quickly, even though they’re working really hard.

“They enjoyed it. You can go out there and get a 40-minute hitout.

“It was our first real go at full-on competitiveness ... I’m sure they’ll be a bit sore because it’s really fast.

“Once you lose possession, it’s very difficult to get it back unless there’s a poor decision or a poor handball or kick.

“Any time Port Melbourne can be part of something that’s new and innovative, we’re all for it.”

An AFL spokesman said yesterday that whether and how AFLX would be rolled out had “yet to be determined”.

“The league will continue to trial and review (AFLX), and continue to look at various options,” he said.

AFLX being played at Lakeside Stadium. Picture: Supplied

Port Adelaide chairman David Koch said recently he believed it would be the perfect model to help the AFL push into China.

And, while Ayres was given no indication of the future of AFLX and admitted “it’s not perfect”, it could well be such a vehicle.

“We’re obviously trying to grow our game. Is it something you might take to Ireland because there’s a similarity in a way (to Gaelic football)? Or America. We saw some of the older cricketers do that with Shane Warne recently. Is it something you do in England, when we’ve played games there before? From what I know, it’s still in its embryonic stage,” Ayres said.

AFL general manager of football operations Simon Lethlean recently saidthat the concept still had a way to go.

“We’re going to trial a few more things to bed down how we think the game looks and feels and then the next plan after that is to work out when we’re going to roll it out in some competitive fashion,” he said.

“Whether there’s a domestic opportunity here for us to have AFL clubs or others competing in an AFL Express type competition or round robin or in some sort of preseason environment or we have an exhibition game with the best 20 players in Australia, who knows?”