I’ll do what I can, but I’m from the Rugby and League-playing part of Australia, and I’m not thoroughly versed in the intricacies of Aussie Rules.
The aim at Aussie Rules is to kick the ball between the central pair of uprights at the other team’s end of the ground. That is a goal, and it is worth six points. There are a few sorts of near-miss that are called ‘behinds’ and that are worth one point. One way to score a behind is to kick the ball between one of the centre uprights and the outer upright next to it. Another is to knock the ball through the goal with your fist. Another is if one of the defending team touches the ball and it goes through the goal. The goal umpire signals a goal with a peculiar gesture of both hands. He signals a behind with a gesture that explains how it was scored–a one-handed half of the ‘goal’ gesture signals a behind that has gone between a centre and an outer upright. A complete miss is signalled by fanning the hands over one another at waist-level, palms down. A team’s score is listed as three figures: the number of goals, followed by the number of behinds, followed by the total points (=6 times the goals plus one times the behinds).
You are allowed to carry the ball a short distance, after which you must kick it, drop it, or hit it with your fist: it is permitted to drop it and then catch it again if it touches the ground. If you are tackled holding the ball you must drop it. You may not throw the ball, so it is passed from player to player by kicking or punching (“hand-balling”) it.
You may grab another player and tackle him, but you must not strike or kick him. There are restrictions preventing you from running into him in certain ways that are particularly dangerous.
If the ball is kicked and a player catches it ‘on the full’ (ie. before it hits the ground) the play is awarded a ‘mark’. He is allowed to back up a little way and run in to the spot where he caught the ball, and I think there is a time limit, but basically he is permitted to kick the ball from the spot where he caught it without interference.
A large part of the tactics of Aussie Rules Football is to break free from the opposing player who is marking you, and then, if you have the ball, to kick it to a team-mate who is also ‘in the clear’, so that he can take a mark and then make a kick (for goal or for another team-mate closer to the goals) without interference. A mark is a big advantage. So, at any time, everything that is going on within kicking distance of the ball is important. And so, although the game televises reasonably well, you get a much better idea of what is going on if you are actually at the game.
When the ball is sent on a long floating kick there is often a struggle at the place where it is set to land, in which members of both teams trying to get into position to take (or spoil) a mark. That’s why the camera operators are trained to televise the play in the landing zone rather than the ballistics of the ball.
I’m not sure about substitution rules, but basically every player is expected to play out the whole game (which is played in four quarters). Defensive specialists are stationed in the ‘back’ half of the field, and offensive specialists are stationed in the ‘forward’ half of the field, but the play is likely to switch from offensive to defense with startling rapidity, far too quickly for an offensive team to be replaced with a defensive team, even if the rules allowed.
There are six officials: one on each goal, one on each sideline, the umpire out on the field, and the scorekeeper (off).
Aussie Rules is fast-moving and fluid. It is played over the whole field, with the play affected by everything that is going on within 50 metres of the ball.
Thirty years ago Aussie Rules was played in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, while in New South Wales and Queensland Rugby was played by amateurs and Rugby League by professional and semi-pros. But since then the Victorian Football League has changed its name to “the Australian Football League”, expelling Melbourne clubs, admitting South Australian and Western Australian clubs, and establishing franchises in ‘enemy’ territory such as Sydney. Similarly, the NSW Rugby League has changed its name to “the Australian Rugby League”, expelling Sydney clubs, admitting Queensland and New Zealand clubs, and establishing franchises in ‘enemy’ territory (eg, Melbourne). Despite all this frantic effort, Rugby League remains more popular than Aussie Rules in the North-East, and Aussie Rules remains more popular than Rugby League in the West and South. So a game between two popular teams that are high in the results table and well matched, played in Melbourne on ANZAC Day will fill a 110,000-seat stadium to overflowing and draw a million TV viewers. But a game played under lights, between two unpopular teams, in Sydney on a weeknight will only attract a few thousand spectators.
The players do not wear much protective gear aside from mouthguards, boots, and perhaps jockstraps. The uniforms are skimpy and tight (to avoid giving opposing players an easy hand-hold in tackles). This, combined with the fact that Aussie Rules players are taller and less squat than Rugby or League players and show the effects of fewer facial injuries, makes Aussie Rules good ogling for those who are inclined to large athletic men.
That’s about all I know.