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AFL substitutes to be trialled in 2009 NAB Cup

AFL substitutes to be trialled

Tucked away among today’s announcements of a raft of changes to the AFL Laws of the Game was a little trial of a new type of position for Australian football: the substitute. While others can debate over rushed behinds and extra boundary umpires, fantasy coaches’ ears should be pricking up at this news that could have a significant impact on fantasy football in years to come.

The NAB Cup teams in 2009, which already have benches expanded to six players, will now also have two substitutes, who are a new kind of interchange player whose replacement can not be brought back onto the ground after they are interchanged with the substitute. This is an idea that has been floating around for years, and arose a number of times this year with several teams suffering terrible in-game injury losses, such as Adelaide in the first Showdown of the year, and Hawthorn in the grand final. In the modern game, the thought of having bench rotations down to one or none gives coaches the heebie-jeebies, severely limiting their midfielders from their increasingly burst-driven aerobic recovery patterns. Several high-profile coaches spoke out on the issue during the year, not just when their own teams were the victims. The Laws of the Game Committee is obviously testing the waters with a view to introducing the rule in the regular season.

Importantly, there are no restrictions on how a club may choose to make these substitutions. For a rule which was brought about largely due to concerns about teams being decimated by injury, one might have thought that a clause about requiring a doctor’s approval that a player could not physically continue without endangering themselves might have been instituted, to prevent exploitation by unscrupulous coaches, but no such caveat has been put in place.

For fantasy coaches, this would be yet another step towards diluting the effectiveness of gun players. With players like Dane Swan already having their time on ground (TOG) regularly curtailed to 75% or lower by coaches who want players built for bursts of speed rather than tough endurance, this rule would only encourage further rotations, by enabling the use of specialist “half-game” players. These fringe players would go into a match expecting to only get half a game’s worth of action, run themselves ragged, only to be substituted at the main break for their other half-gamer despite being perfectly fit (if a little winded!). It might mean that draftees are put into the seniors earlier, but could you play them in your 22 if they are only named as a substitute? Tough choice. Similarly, if they are named for early games and then substituted early when they inevitably get puffed out, suddenly your lovely new rookie is removed from the field of battle before posting a solid score, which would be very frustrating. Certain coaches would exploit this rule more than others, of course, perhaps ruling out entire teams for cash cow potential.

If this rule were to become a part of the AFL, we could see the rise of what is called in soccer a “super-sub”, a player who specialises in being brought on for the last quarter of a match to turn it with some mercurial attacking abilities. Think of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who scored the winning goal coming off the bench in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final for Manchester United. A player like Stuart Dew could make a fine living for himself in that role, and he wouldn’t even need to be particularly fit! For fantasy coaches, however, this would be a poor outcome because they couldn’t start a substitute under normal circumstances, and the super subs would just be pinching points off the forwards they were hoping would score for them.

I think this is a rule whose time has come, in a league more and more concerned with occupational health and safety, and with a seemingly inexhaustible desire to speed up the game. It’s not quite all the way to the NFL model, where fully 45 of a team’s 53-man roster is eligible to play at any time during the game each week, but it’s a step along that path. How about you, if this comes in for home and away matches what sort of effect do you think it would have? Am I being too cynical? Tell me in the comments.



  1. Team_Lactose

    December 15, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    yerr i find i strange that they are making it just whenever you want. I agree it needs to be because of injury or the like.
    I would liken it more to hockey though. imagine being able to change your entire back/forward line in one fowl swoop.

  2. Lakey91

    December 15, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    I hate most of these rule changes. I think rushed behinds free kick is going wayyyyy to far. Just make them wait for the flags to be waved or award 2 or 3 points instead! As for interchanges, i dont think they should extend the bench, but i do think havine ONE emergency substitute for players who are injured in the match would work well. However i would recommend an impartial health professional should assess players before the substitute is granted access to field of play, as i can see exploitation may become more prevalent.

  3. Chad

    December 15, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    In theory i think it is great, but as you mention, it can create players that only play a half. Personally i think it should be for emergency use only. The player that is coming off needs to have a “major injury”. How do you define major injury? The player coming off can not play for the next 4 weeks. If he is injured badly, it wont matter, if they are trying to exploit the system, then that player wont be playing for a month.

  4. dylan

    December 16, 2008 at 12:20 am

    chad that wont work though. teams lose lots of player though games that only miss a week or 2 so the interchange rule would be useless a lot of the time, and how can they tell if its going to be a 4 week injury or not at the game??

  5. m0nty

    December 16, 2008 at 12:26 am

    The rules committee may well have discussed this issue and decided to just see what the coaches do without further regulation. That, or the decision was that the AFL don’t want to pay for yet another official, this time an expensive medically-trained professional.

  6. Chad

    December 16, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Dylan, trainers and medico’s would be able to tell if it is a 1-2 weeker or a 4 .

  7. Gregs

    December 16, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    It could be good to see champion players going on well into their 30’s seeings they’d only need to play for a quarter… Hird might come back out of retirement 🙂

  8. dylan

    December 16, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    i would rather them just extend the bench to 5-6 players instead of the injury thing.

  9. dylan

    December 16, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    also i really dont like the rush behind rule. i think its to harsh

  10. Other Dan

    December 16, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    I’m from a background of years playing fantasy premier league (soccer) so I’m well used to the substitute concept. So much so it took me a while to understand that just because a player was listed on the interchange didn’t mean he was destined for a low score.

    From an AFL fantasy concept I think it’s going to mean more headache. Picture the scenario, your player is listed on the interchange when the teams are announced, (and so you place them in your 22). Only to discover that on matchday he’s a late swap to the substitute bench and doesn’t make any appearance or worst still comes on late and gets a low score.

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  12. XztatiK

    December 17, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    I think medical approval is required here.

    As for the rushed behind, all that needs to happen is the clock to resume only once the ball comes in contact with the kicker-inner’s foot. That would prevent Bowden situations – which is all that needs to be prevented.

  13. Rob

    December 17, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Chad, the minimum-weeks-out quota falls short when you get something like a concussion, where the player definitely can’t play on but could be fine in a day or two.

  14. dylan

    December 18, 2008 at 11:33 am

    exactly rob, thats y i dont think the 4 week thing will work

  15. Chad

    December 19, 2008 at 8:52 am

    That’s, the long and short of it Rob, If it is just a concussion than you play a man down. The substitutes should be for major injuries.

  16. dylan

    December 19, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    but then teams will still be down to like 2 players on the bench chad so this rule wont help much of the time

  17. Pete

    December 29, 2008 at 9:54 am

    I think its a good idea. Maybe should be reduced to just 1 sub player.

    This would make coaches think twice to use it at half time because you want this player in case a star gets injuried in the last quarter, and the game is in the balance.

    Having two will allow coaches to use one whenever, and still have one in the bank. This would open it up to be a league standard.

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