The first round of the new AFL season has been and gone in what seems like a matter of seconds. The start of this season has also brought to us the two new ‘marquee’ rules by the AFL, the Substitution Rule and what shall be called the Concussion Rule. The fans and players alike didn’t have long to wait before both rules were put into action.
During the first quarter of the Richmond and Carlton match on Thursday night, Jarrad Waite received a knock to the head and was taken from the ground. He was diagnosed with a concussion by the Carlton team doctor and due to that he was unable to return to the field. Furthermore, due to his inability to return to the field, Carlton had to activate their substitute player, Kane Lucas. This simple sequence introduced both the AFL’s new rules to the public and gave an insight into what was to come.
In the very next game we again saw both rules play out in the same way. Geelong and St. Kilda played a very long and arduous tussle that saw Joel Selwood stretchered off the ground. Unlike Waite, Selwood would have been unable to return to the field even under the old rulings, he was down and out. Selwoods exit from the game saw Geelong have to activate their substitute, Darren Milburn, who ironicly enough kicked the winning score for the Geelong team.
The rest of the weekend saw the other teams play the substitute card a little differently to those two. Most teams left the substitute until the final quarter as a means to have fresh legs on the field. This meant that the substitute was generally a midfield type player, Sydney was the only team to go with a second ruckman as their substitute and they didn’t activate him until there was about 15 minutes left in the game. A few teams also had to activate their substitutes due to injuries, for example Brisbane. The idea is right to leave the substitute warming the pine for the majority of the game and coming in as the fresh legs to spark the team into action once again, the case in point with this is Ricky Petterd. Coming on at the start of the fourth quarter, the Demon forward sparked the sides comeback against the Swans so the match ended in a draw and not a Melbourne loss.
The actual idea behind the introduction of the Substitute Rule was to reduce injury and to prevent teams from gaining any sort of advantage due to their rotations.
First off, how can a team gain an advantage from their rotations? Before everyone says that they gain an advantage by the number of interchanges they make compared to the other team, you’re wrong. Simply because it is then up to the opposition coach to identify that the other team is rotating through its players alot and up his own rotations to ensure he isn’t run over. Another potential arguement from everyone is the players chosen to sit on the bench. Again I would say you’re wrong. If you look back over all the teams at the players generally chosen for the interchange they include one or two talls and two or three running/smaller players. One of the talls would be a ruckman or key position player, which under the new Substitute Rule the second ruckman will be no more. Sydney showed how much of a failure having a second ruckman as the substitute can be, or will be.
Second is the topic of injuries, this topic and the rotations go hand in hand. If a player was injured, under the old rules, the interchange would be down to three players instead of the four. This is where rotations could become advantageous to the opposition team. However, the substitute ruling doesn’t lessen this advantage at all. In the case of Jarrad Waite and Joel Selwood, their respective teams were forced to play their substitute player alot earlier than they were hoping to activate them. Their opposition didn’t activate their substitute until much later in the game. So in effect, if a team suffers an injury and are forced to bring on the substitute player, they are back to the same situation as the three players against four players as under the old rules. The way the Substitute Rule does help with injuries is that it may be able to prevent injuries from getting worse, it would stop players from going back out onto the field if they were injured and risking warming the sidelines for an extended period of time.
Overall I am not a fan of the new Substitute Rule, I believe it was a change just for the sake of change. They are now putting more pressure on the players to perform and then perform while exhausted. Once the players hit that stage then they are more likely to find themselves with an injury, the exact thing the Substitution Rule was brought in to combat. They may as well have told the teams they can have three players on the interchange only, the substitute then becomes the first emergency. Then if they were going to do that, it would make more sense to make the substitute player only available to come on if a legitimate game ending injury occurs. An unbiased doctor, appointed by the AFL would then be on the sidelines to ensure that it is legitimate.
The Concussion Rule on the other hand, I like the idea of, however having said that it still needs to be ironed out. This was a rule that the AFL brought in just days before the season was due to beginning proper, so naturally there are going to be some questions about the thought process and/or hastiness in its deployment. If the wrinkles, for example circumstances such as Jarrad Waite’s concussion, can be straightened out then the rule will go along way to staving off extended lay-offs due to concussion.