"We need to be tougher on holding the ball", says AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has said umpires need to be more ruthless when it comes to paying free kicks for holding the ball, as the AFL's standard of play continues to frustrate fans and coaches.

Speaking to the media after the league was forced to change a number of Round 5 fixtures to fall in line with the Queensland government's decision to impose a 14-day quarantine on teams entering the state from a coronavirus-impacted Victoria, McLachlan said the AFL was in good shape, but could be tougher on holding the ball - something flagged by Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson on Sunday evening.

"There were some cracking games on the weekend and there were some average games. That's sport," McLachlan said. "I do agree with [Clarkson] to an extend on holding the ball ... I disagree with one thing, the [players need] prior opportunity.

"You can't have the guys taking the ball and not having prior opportunity. But our players are so skilled and so quick that the can take the ball and assess the options so quickly, and if they don't like they take the tackle [and not get penalised]. They've had prior and should be pinged.

"I think that we need to be tougher on holding the ball, I think the prior opportunity needs to be tighter, because our players are so skilled, assessing it and taking the tackle."

McLachlan said he was "thinking about calling" AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking to see if anything could be done about the rule.

The state of the game was again brought into question on the weekend by Clarkson, who described the low-scoring, defensive affairs as "dreadful" to watch.

"I hope I'm not the only one who thought it was dreadful, there were just no highlights in the game," Clarkson said after his side's narrow win over North Melbourne. "We got a result, we bank it and move on; I don't think North played well and I don't think Hawthorn played well.

"There's a lot of things about the game; you put a lot of time and effort and endeavour into the game; we had 69 tackles, I don't think we had a free kick from a tackle. Sixty-nine tackles and not one of them can be adjudicated holding the ball? What's happened to our game? You can't have that many tackles and not one of them be incorrect disposal.

"And you wonder why the game is an arm wrestle and you can't get any open footy; tonight's game was just ... if that's the spectacle we're trying to search for in our game, then our game's in a dreadful space."

Clarkson also touched on Sunday's earlier clash between Geelong and Melbourne which produced just four goals in the first half despite perfect conditions for football.

"The AFL can't be happy ... two goals each, the MCG, was it? Beautiful winter's day ... no rain, two goals each, Geelong and Melbourne, who I both rate as sides, both sides I think can play finals this year, and it's two goals each at half time. Fair dinkum," he said.