The rookie list is a means for Australian Football League (AFL) clubs to maintain additional players outside of the 38-man primary or senior list. Rookie listed players are not eligibile to play in AFL home-and-away or finals matches unless they are elevated to the senior list, either to replace a retired player or a player with a long-term injury.
There are two categories of rookie: Category A and Category B. Category A primarily represents players with a traditional Australian rules football development; Category B rookies are players from non-traditional recruiting backgrounds. Category A rookies are usually placed on the list via the rookie draft, which occurs annually during the off-season, immediately after the pre-season draft. As is the case with the AFL's other drafts, clubs are given the opportunity to select rookies in reverse ladder order, based on the previous season's results.
Several types of Category A rookies may be recruited directly by the clubs, without the need to put up for draft (although all such players are recorded against a late draft pick as a formality). This includes:International rookies
Father-son selections – which are permitted only if the player has nominated for and not been selected in a National Draft
Each club is permitted to recruit up to three "Category B" rookies. Category B rookies are recruited directly rather than drafted, and represent players from non-traditional recruiting backgrounds. Players who may be recruited as Category B rookies include:International players, who are neither Australian citizens nor residents
Players from the New South Wales scholarship program
Players from the International scholarship program
Zone selections by Sydney and Greater Western Sydney from New South Wales or the ACT
Zone selections by Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast from Queensland
Players from other sports, who have not been registered with an Australian rules football club for three years
In the specific case of Irish international rookies, a club may have no more than one Irish Category B rookie at a time; but, the club is permitted to recruit other Irish players as Category A rookies, and may still recruit them directly without putting them up for draft.
Each club is allowed to maintain a list of up to six eligible Category A rookies and three Category B rookies. Up to three rookies can be retained, with the player's permission for a second or third season, with the others having to be either delisted or elevated to the primary list at the time of the National Draft. Only half of the salary paid by a club to players on the rookie list counts towards the league's salary cap.
Generally speaking, a rookie-listed player cannot be selected to play in the senior AFL competition, and must play in state-level affiliated teams, except in two circumstances:At the start of a season, a club can nominate up to two veterans from its senior list for salary cap reasons; if a team does not have a full quota of veterans, it can make up the balance by nominating rookies to be eligible for senior selection. These players are known as nominated rookies.
If a senior-listed player is moved onto the long-term injury list, a rookie-listed player can be temporarily elevated in his place, becoming eligible for senior selection, while the senior player remains injured.
There are usually plenty of opportunities to enact one of these rules, so rookie-listed players who are playing well enough for senior selection are seldom deprived of the opportunity by list management constraints.
The rookie list was established in 1997. It was initially aimed at providing recruitment opportunities for young players, and at that time, players must have been between the ages of 18 and 23 to qualify. In 2006, this was relaxed to allow each club to recruit a rookie older than 23 if he had never previously been on an AFL list. This has since been relaxed further, and now there no upper age or experience restrictions on Category A rookies.
In 2006, "International rookies" were identified for the first time as a separate class of rookie, covering international players from any countries except Ireland, in order to protect the AFL's relationship with the Gaelic Athletic Association. The "International rookie" category has since been expanded to the broader Category B.
The relaxing of eligibility criteria have resulted a notable semantic anomaly with the rookie list: that highly experienced players may serve on a club's rookie list, even though the word "rookie" is widely understood in most sports and professions to refer to a new or inexperienced person. For example, Carlton's Heath Scotland spent his sixteenth and final AFL season on Carlton's rookie list, mostly to free up space on the club's primary list.
Before eligibility criteria were relaxed, special dispensation was granted for Adam Ramanauskas to be played on Essendon's rookie list in 2006. Ramanauskas had played over 100 AFL games for the club, but there was uncertainty over his playing future as he underwent treatment and recovery for cancer.
The Australian Football League Players' Association (AFLPA) has stated a desire to abolish the rookie list, in favour of an expanded 46 player roster. The AFLPA's main argument is that rookies now have the same workload as senior players – which was not necessarily true in the early days of the rookie list – but that their pay and opportunities are much lower than that of senior players.
Some of the most successful players (having played over 100 AFL games and/or kicked over 100 goals in the AFL) originally drafted into the AFL via the rookie system are: