After spending months on the track preparing for round one, the last thing you would expect to see is players struggling with muscle cramps before three-quarter time in the opening game.
While round one naturally sees the level raised from pre-season, a surprising number of players struggled to run out the game.
Being the first round, it is expected that some younger players and those who suffered interrupted pre-seasons may struggle. But a number of senior players were also part of that group.
Most worrying for coaches and clubs is the number of players who could not even run out three quarters of football, let alone four.
Western Bulldogs recruit Koby Stevens and Gold Coast’s Karmichael Hunt were both subbed off at, or before three-quarter time because of cramping.
St Kilda who fell away in the second half against the Suns, had over a dozen players struggle with cramping. Midfielder David Armitage spent a lot of time in the third term off, this resulting in a compromise of the Saints’ midfield rotations.
The Suns also had a similar number of players suffer from cramping and players from both Melbourne and Port Adelaide also struggled late in the game.
For coaches and clubs, the increased number of players suffering from cramping only supports the position of not capping the interchanges. Many have voiced their concerns over the impending rule and what impact it will have on the game.
Saints coach Scott Watters came out after his side’s loss and said interchange rotation caps in the pre-season played a part in players struggling in round one.
This is only going to get worse come next season when the interchange cap comes in, as the new rules will slow the game down like the AFL is hoping, but it will also have a bigger impact on injuries.
For at least the last five years there has been a focus on creating football as a sprinting game instead of an endurance game, and it will take longer than one pre-season to change this.
Players are still going to play at the same level they have been at the start of matches, before running out of legs.
Limiting the number of interchanges will mean players who are in need of a rest are going to have to stay on the field, with this likely to cause more problems.
If round one is anything to go by, those suffering from cramping will increase and the number of injuries caused by cramping will rise with it.
Instead of improving the game like the AFL is aiming to do, interchange caps could just as easily make it worse, as there will be players who can not make a proper contest come the final term.
Having witnessed an increase in the number of players cramping in round one, both the AFL and clubs will be watching closely to see whether this trend continues, and not only because of what impact it will have on this season, but also going forward.