'Beyond a joke': AFL fans react to groundbreaking rule change

Chris Young
·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
The AFL has introduced a medical substitution days before the 2021 season is set to begin. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
The AFL has introduced a medical substitution days before the 2021 season is set to begin. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Three days out from the AFL's season opener, the league has announced the addition of a medical substitute for the 2021 competition.

Teams will be allowed a 23rd player to be named in each squad, but they can only play in the event of a game-ending injury to another player.

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Originally considered as a concussion substitute, AFL coaches unanimously voted to expand the scope of the rule to cover all game-ending injuries.

While a popular move among the coaches, the players have reportedly been left somewhat disgruntled by the late introduction of the change.

"This was a foreseeable problem when the rule changes were made last year around rotations, the man on the mark rule and the return to normal quarter lengths," AFLPA boss Paul Marsh told SEN on Tuesday.

Blues coach David Teague was confident the move would be beneficial.

"I think they have added the sub to be make it fairer if you lose a player, so why limit it to concussion?," he told reporters on Wednesday.

More details emerged soon after the rule was announced, with Channel 7 journalist Mark Stevens reporting that the 23rd player is named 60 minutes before the bounce.

Additionally, the substitute player has a game counted on their record if even if they don't enter the game, and they will still receive a premiership medal if they don't get activated in the grand final.

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Footy fans react to AFL's medical substitution change

The change prompted a mixed reaction among fans on social media, with some concerned the rule would be exploited by teams seeking to get a fresh player on the field late in games.

However others, including the likes of Richmond Tigers captain Trent Cotchin, were in favour of the rule, arguing it was important for player safety - specifically for concussions.

“It’s important that we protect the players and make sure that they don’t feel like they’re letting teammates down if they don’t play,” Cotchin said.

“With the education that’s around it and the way it typically impacts you, not just now but also down the track in your life.

“I think we’re aware of how significant concussion can be.

“We just want to make sure that we create a really safe environment for players to play.”

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Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury wasn't sold on the new substitute, suggesting players had felt the effects of shorter quarters and fewer rotations could potentially lead to a higher rate of injuries.

“I certainly felt the affects of 75 rotations and certain guys not being able to come off (during the pre-season games),” Pendlebury said earlier in the week.

“Injury rates are probably going to spike because of that.

“We’re a game that wants the best players out there, but we’re also red-lining the best players pretty quickly at the moment.

“It’s almost like a rule got created and then we needed to create another rule to solve the problem of that rule.”

With AAP

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