'Blight on the game': AFL 'farce' leaves fans fuming

Andrew Reid
·4-min read
Richmond's Nick Vlastuin is seen here sporting a bandage on his knee after the Tigers' round one win.
Richmond used the AFL's new medical substitute rule to replace Nick Vlastuin, who suffered a knee cork. Pic: Getty

Richmond kicked off the AFL season with a hard-fought win over Carlton at the MCG, but it was two controversial new rules that left many fans fuming.

The reigning premiers opened the season with a gritty 25-point victory over Carlton as fans returned to the MCG on Thursday night, with the competition returning to full-length quarters for the first time since 2019.

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While that change was celebrated by most fans, the AFL's new man on the mark and medical substitute rules came under fire from viewers.

Richmond were gifted an easy goal just before halftime when Carlton's Sam Petrevski-Seton was pinged for moving laterally, despite not being five metres away from the mark.

It meant Josh Caddy was awarded a 50 metre penalty that helped him kick the Tigers further in front at the main break.

While that incident left many fans annoyed, it was the medical substitute rule that had many viewers seething.

Former Melbourne player Oscar McDonald became the first medical substitute when he replaced Carlton teammate Jack Silvangi (shoulder) at halftime.

Pictured here, Carlton's Oscar McDonald smiles after kicking a goal against Richmond.
Carlton's Oscar McDonald became the AFL's first medical substitute when he replaced Jack Silvagni. Pic: Getty

McDonald made an instant impact for Carlton, with the Tigers soon utilising the controversial rule themselves.

Richmond's sub, Jack Ross, was activated late in the third quarter when defender Nick Vlastuin picked up what turned out to be a corked knee.

One day before the season got underway, the AFL approved the rule that allows clubs to use a 23rd man in their squad if there is a game-ending injury to a player - with a club medical officer to determine if a player is unfit to continue.

It prompted concerns from many commentators and former players that clubs would inevitably manipulate the situation to their advantage and in some cases, perhaps even make up injuries to get a fresh player on the field.

On Thursday night AFL greats Jonathan Brown, Garry Lyon and Nick Riewoldt all took aim at the new medical sub rule and suggested that it had already been exploited.

“As if the coaches weren’t going to exploit that rule.” Brown told Fox Footy after the game.

“This is unbelievable. I feel for the doctors. I feel for both doctors already. Especially the Richmond doctor.

“If he (Vlastuin) plays next week there is uproar.

“Straight away in Round 1 it’s been exploited that rule.”

Riewoldt said the rule made it easy "for clubs to find an injury”, and Lyon suggested that McDonald’s impact for Carlton could have influenced Richmond's call on Vlastuin.

Medical sub rule under fire from viewers

“You just wonder if you’re sitting in the coaches’ box and you go, ‘Hey, Oscar McDonald’s having a big impact here. Let’s get ours on. We’ve got no injuries so let’s go and find one’,” he said.

Fans also took to social media to express their opposition to the new rule, with many labelling it a "farce".

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Damien Hardwick was one of two senior coaches not involved in a meeting which ultimately led to the decision to implement the rule but the Richmond coach said he believes it will improve the game.

"The players were going down like ninepins; Shai (Bolton) had a full body cramp in that last quarter," Hardwick said.

"I know people will jump up and down about it, but the more players that play the game, it's a positive from my point of view.

"You've got limited rotations, so one more player on the ground's not going to make a big difference for mine.

"I'm all for the growth of the game. If it is going to make it better, let's do it. I can't see the down side to it.

"The health and safety of players is paramount. Realistically, if you have got fresh players there, you shouldn't lose a game with an injured player when you've got a fresh one that can come on and play."

with AAP

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