After trialling the sub rule in the 2009 and 2010 NAB Cup competitions, the AFL decided that it would make the first change to the interchange rules at the start of the 2011 season and introduce a substitute, the first change since they added a fourth bench player back in 1998.
Mick Malthouse and many other coaches in the last few seasons have called out for the AFL to look at introducing more players to the bench.
Some coaches, including Mick Malthouse and Kevin Sheedy just to name two, are of the opinion that having players to call on when they’re down to no rotations is a little fairer to all concerned.
Instead, the AFL went the other way, introducing the sub rule to counteract the rising interchange rotations, while also citing the reason for bringing in the rule as being congestion, fairness and injuries.
Several clubs have made an art form of the interchange rotations, finding that not only can they keep their players fresh, but even find a way to get them back onto the ground without them being noticed, and into an important part of play.
When the sub rule came into effect, Collingwood was still able to clock up a total of over 200 rotations; in their Round 1 clash in 2011, the Magpies managed to get it closer to 240 rotations.
The AFL has come under fire with many of its sudden and unneeded changes to the game, and the sub rule has become yet another. The game’s evolution has seen it grow faster; players train harder, train longer and suffer injuries.
The Tasmanian State League has brought in their own sub rule, instead of removing a player from the bench, it has added another player. However, there was a twist to the rule; the player who was the sub had to be a player that was a little too old to play in the league’s colts.
The change in the TSL colts saw players as old as 21 years old playing in the competition, as there was no more reserves competition. Some clubs struggled to find a player that was old enough to be a sub. The league later revised the sub rule.
Those within the AFL themselves are also considering tinkering with the sub rule, but not by adding a new player on the bench. In fact, they’re looking to make it two subs, and two on the bench.
The AFL’s change has seen players, coaches, and sports science staff unite in their rejecting of the proposed new change to the interchange bench.
Rotations will probably increase and decrease over the next few years without the need to cap or even add a sub rule, as clubs explore more ways to try and win games and explore their sports science options.
Teams will also look to their training programs, looking for ways they can handle the soft tissue injuries.
In Essendon’s case in 2012, it got it horribly wrong and as a result, and the players suffered many soft tissue injuries. The sub rule has the risk to add more players to the soft tissue injury list as the player tries to get himself warmed up and loose to make an impact.
A few of the current AFL injury problems can be traced back to overtraining as well as other changes in the training sessions. The game will no doubt change again throughout its evolution and see the game become slower again, before changing yet again.
Making dramatic changes will not help the game if they are done without more careful study involved. It seems as though if a second substitute is brought in to replace a bench player, the game will be unnecessarily altered. As the old saying goes, don’t fix what isn’t broken.