AFL and AFLW Size: How Many Footy Players Are There

Watching the Roos warming up pre-season got me thinking about upcoming changes to the number of players on the footy team, and the differences between the AFL and the AFLW. I’ve recorded the numbers here so that I can see what differences come up if the AFL does change the team size in the future, and how I felt about it at this time.

In AFL, the number of players are:

  • 18 players on the field
  • 22 players in a team
  • 40 players in a squad
  • 762 players in the league
  • Over 1.5 million members, former players, and those that love the game

I’ve included below how many AFL players there are, how the AFL is changing the rules, how many players in the AFLW, and how many junior footy players there are.

How Many AFL Players in a Team, and in the League

There are 762 total players represented by the AFL Players Association. These players play in the 18 AFL clubs.

Each of the clubs in the AFL has a squad size of 40 players for a season and are allowed up to 6 rookies.

I found the total number of players on the Players Association website. Check out the players association here if you’re interested in finding out more about how they help players with their personal development and legal issues.

How many players in a match

On the field during an AFL game there are 18 players. There are 4 more players on the bench.

AFLW games have 16 players on the field.

The number of players on the bench has been increasing over the years. Prior to 1930 a team would be severely handicapped if a player had to leave the field as there was no replacement. A 19th man was added in 1930 and a 20th added in 1946. Another player was added in the 1994, and another in 1998. This brings the total to the 22 that we know today.


I’ve mentioned the rookies as an addition to the 40 players as things are about to change (see why the AFL is changing the team size below).

A rookie listed player in the AFL is usually, but not always, a younger player who has not been nominated in the main AFL draft. The rookie list is also seen as a second chance to live an AFL dream and may consist of older players recovering from serious injury, or a player who is still in contract but is no longer required as a player by their club.

A rookie is not paid as much and can only be selected to play if it is to replace a player from the main list with a serious injury.

Why the team size might change

Radical changes to cut the number of players in the squad are being considered by the AFL. The AFL wants to cut the number of players in a squad from 40 (+4 rookies) to 30 players total. No rookies.

The reason? I think they believe the player pool is diluted with so many players, lowering the quality of the product overall.

The Players Association also isn’t keen on the rookie list. According to the Players Association, rookie players:

  • Work harder for their opportunities,
  • Don’t get the same playing opportunities, and
  • Get paid a lot less than regular squad players.

Rule Changes and Penalties

I did a bit of digging to find out the how and why of the rules changing.

For exceeding the number of players on the field, I found the penalties changed in 2008 to free kick and a potential fine. Then there’s the 6-6-6 rule.

Too many players on the field: A free kick and a fine

During the 2008 AFL season the Sydney Swans would be investigated after suggestions they were playing with an extra player. It was found that the Swans had in fact played the last 90 seconds of the game with a 19th man. This event highlighted a potential can of worms for the AFL in the form of one of the oldest and outdated rules. Prior to this event the rule stated that if the opposition or umpire suspected that a team had to many players, they would call the game to a stop and the farcical situation of a head count would occur. If the accused team was found to have to many players on the field there ENTIRE SCORE would be wiped back to zero. An extremely harsh penalty.

The AFL decided to change the rule immediately after the Swans investigation was over, abolishing the need for a head count and instead replacing it with the more appropriate penalty of a free kick and potential fine.

The 6-6-6 Rule

For the start of the 2019 season the AFL made one of the biggest rule changes in the sports history. At the start of each quarter or at the restart of every goal the 18 players on the field would be split into 3 groups of 6. These groups would be stationed in the 3 sections of the ground; Attack, defence and midfield, creating set positions that players could not move away from till the game was restarted.

Those against the change argued that the new rule would be restrictive to one of Australian Footballs unique characteristics; the ability move freely around the ground without the offside of soccer and rugby and the restrictive payer movements like that in netball and hockey.

Those for the rule suggested that the starting positions would create space at the restart, allowing for faster, more free flowing, attacking football.

Size of the AFLW

There are 16 players on the field in an AFLW match.

This is drawn from a huge footy participation rate amongst women. Since the introduction of the women’s league, participation is up 14% and women make up 32% of all participants, according to Sports Australia.

I feel the growth of the women’s game has been a real boost to the footy community. More revenue, more participation, and more excitement – how can that be bad?

How about the junior footy?

Australian Rules football is the 5th most popular sport for children under the age of 15, according to Sport Aus.

SportParticipation (Under 15’s)
Aussie Rules9%

I was surprised by the statistics. Beating out Aussies rules is swimming, soccer, gymnastics, and dancing. AFL is a great spectator sport. I think we can do better than 9% of under 15’s playing it!

For adults, it gets worse! Footy’s beat out by walking, the gym and running!

Out of organised sports though, footy’s doing well. According to Sport Aus, more adults play Aussie rules than play soccer.

SportParticipation (adult)
Aussie Rules5%


While the game has evolved over time, such as with the introduction of a women’s league and increasing the team size, it still remains a game in good shape. Aussies love watching footy and they also love playing it.

I love footy. And I love sharing my passion for helpful footy insights with the an audience. Tune in to our podcast Anybody’s Game where myself (Cass) and JJ break down the latest sports news of the week and top questions sent to us via this blog:


I make sure all the facts and figures I’ve referenced in this article are well cited. Here is where I got them from:

Cass grew up with a footy wrapped in his arms, he peaked at the U18’s though.


Cass was born with a football in his arms. From the moment he could walk he's loved playing sport, watching sport, and being a fan of any game he can play. Cass helped start Anybody's Fan to help fans enjoy their sport. He works to provide easy to read information and guides that help fans understand different strategies and terms of the game, and why coaches and players do what they do.

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