The AFL will implement a crackdown on holding the ball interpretations in 2022, while it will also further punish delay of game tactics during the upcoming season.
The League wrote to all clubs on Monday, outlining that umpires will now be "less lenient towards players who have had prior opportunity and do not immediately and correctly dispose of the football".
The stricter holding the ball interpretation includes a focus on players ducking into tackles, with clubs warned that "a player who ducks their head prior to being legally tackled" will be penalised more stringently by umpires.
Umpire cues for what constitutes 'prior opportunity' have also been updated, with the AFL indicating it will instruct officials to look for players who evade, fend, duck or neglect a prior option to dispose of the ball.
They will also penalise players who don’t legally dispose of the football if they’re "balanced and steady" when tackled, if they have previously been awarded a mark or free kick, or if they drive their head into a legal tackle.
The League is also set to further punish delaying tactics this season, telling clubs that "umpires will be less lenient towards players who deliberately delay the play" through free kicks or 50m penalties.
Players will no longer be given a warning before being penalised for delaying the play, with umpires now under the instruction to immediately punish "any conduct which delays or impedes the play".
The rule updates come after extensive analysis of the 2021 season and meetings with all clubs, led by the AFL’s executive general manager Andrew Dillon and its general manager of football Brad Scott.
"We are looking forward to 2022 being a year of consolidation and, as such, want to reinforce there would be no material rule changes introduced for men’s competitions this season," Dillon wrote to clubs on Monday.
"Following meetings with each of the 18 AFL clubs across November and December last year, we have worked closely as a Football Operations and Umpiring Department to tighten up on the interpretations of existing rules relating to time delay and holding the ball.
"In relation to time delay, there will be less leniency towards players who delay play and, secondly, with holding the ball there will be less leniency towards players who have had prior opportunity and do not immediately dispose of the football.
"The tightening up of these existing rules comes after the Game Analysis team, made up of AFL and AFL club staff, identified trends in the way the game was being played and umpired in the AFL and aims to deliver a game that is played and umpired in line with the spirit and intention that is consistent with the Laws of Australian Football."