You might think the reduction of the interchange cap from 120 to 90 is a bit extreme, but in terms of player fatigue, it’s really not that bad. Any high quality fitness management staff will figure out how to best manage their list by round five or six next season at the latest. The abolishment of the sub rule shouldn’t change anything, except for management of older players.
But in what ways will it affect the game? We’ve heard it’ll make for better viewing and even having a connection to stoppages. But it shouldn’t really have that big of an impact.
Time spent on the bench
When the cap was set at 120, it meant each player would come off around six times during the course of a match on average. At 90, it drops down to around four per game. However, when you consider that key forwards and defenders won’t be coming off all that often, the figure goes up to five rests per game.
If a player has five rests per game, and plays 80 percent of the match, they will spend on average 4.8 minutes each time on the pine. Of course, every player is different, so that’s not a steadfast rule.
That means, instead of having six breaks of 3.5 minutes each, non-key position players on average will have four breaks of close to five minutes.
The cap will actually allow for closer to 105 interchanges
At the change of each quarter, a club can swap whoever was on the bench at the end of the previous quarter for someone else to start on the bench, and that doesn’t count towards the cap.
So, each club can make an additional 12 changes over the course of quarter breaks, taking the possible interchanges from 90 up to 102.
Clubs can also take a player off for a concussion test, a blood-rule or via the stretcher, and that will not count towards the cap.
So have no fear if your team’s coach has used his 90 allowed interchanges and there is still time left. You won’t be in risk of having to field an injured player.
The AFL’s press release did not disclose what would happen if a player suffers a muscle injury or something of that ilk.
It is presumed that the club should keep a couple of interchanges spare in the case of that event, as it would be a rort if someone was allowed to go down with a ‘professional cramp’ in an intense situation (we’re looking at you, Brian Lake).
The re-birth of the second ruckman?
We saw the ‘death’ of the second true ruckman with the sub rule, but don’t be so sure that these changes mean back-up rucks will come back.
Pressure acts and a focus on forcing turnovers have become pivotal to the modern game. Combined with a focus on fast and pinpoint ball movement, carrying more than one moderately skilled ruckman would still be cumbersome.
Greater scope for international players
St Kilda’s Jason Holmes will be over the moon with these changes. The game needs athletic ruckman who can run all day and be effective at ground level.
Holmes could easily slot in behind Billy Longer or Tom Hickey as a second ruckman, and provide a link up target around the ground.
The draft this year only contains three standout ruck choices, although there’s a few more to come next year.
Make no mistake, savvy clubs will look to the American athletic prospects as genuine long-term options, given they’ve got higher ceilings in a low rotation game.
Earlier retirement age
Cam Mooney raised an interesting question over Steve Johnson on SEN, saying he wouldn’t want to see Johnson play on next year, even if Johnson was convinced he still had something to offer.
Playing as a permanent forward pocket is not an option for any player.
“Forward pockets have to run between 12 to 15 kilometres per game,” Mooney said.
“Supporters may look at Johnson and say that he could add 25-30 goals per year. But his opponents could get 15 or more disposals against him, which could account for up to six goals per game.”
Six goals seems a bit farfetched, but scoring chains from the defensive half are important to most of the top teams in 2015.
One of the only teams who don’t rely on chains from the defensive half to score is St Kilda, who prefer to build their game around capitalising on turnovers in the forward half.
Even in that sort of system, a player like Steve Johnson would be a liability, as he wouldn’t have the running power to put on defensive pressure.
The draft combine becomes more important
Recruiters aren’t overly swayed by test scores at the draft combine. Their main concern over that period comes back to player interviews.
Even though recruiters were already placing a strong emphasis on athletes over Brad Sewell-types, this will become even more pronounced.
We saw the Swans take Jack Hiscox in the second round last year, and you can bet plenty of that was due to his running power and insane beep test score.
We’ve also seen the Hawks take players like Isaac Smith, Brad Hill and Billy Hartung early in the draft too, who all have a mix of endurance, speed and good foot skills.
The beep test, 20 metre sprint and three kilometre time trials will have a bigger impact in recruiters minds going forward.
But will there be noticeable visual changes?
The game is not going to radically change in terms of playing styles and stoppages.
The changes could present a change of speed late in games, but the game won’t slow down too much given clubs have such a focus on fitness .
In fact, we’ve seen some great last quarter shootouts lately, with North Melbourne and the Bulldogs recently showing teams can still score more than seven goals in the final quarter. It all comes back to the tempo of the game and who is coaching.