Controversy erupts over 'dodgy' Richmond act in dramatic AFL draw

Ben Miller, pictured here after being subbed out in Richmond's AFL draw with Fremantle.
Damien Hardwick defended the decision to sub out Ben Miller in Richmond's AFL draw with Fremantle. Image: Getty/Fox Footy

Richmond’s use the AFL’s contentious sub rule has come under scrutiny, after the Tigers replaced Ben Miller with a fresh-legged Maurice Rioli Jr late in the fourth quarter of their nail-biting draw with Fremantle on Friday night.

Despite showing no visible signs of discomfort, Miller was taken off with what was initially reported as a ‘groin injury’, before the fleet-footed Rioli Jr entered the fray in his place.

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The change led to scepticism from many pundits and fans on social media, who questioned the legitimacy of Miller’s injury and whether the substitution from Richmond was a tactical move instead.

Bringing the substitution further under the microscope was the fact Rioli had an almost immediate impact on the contest, making a crucial tackle to stem a dangerous Fremantle attack.

Despite the initial medical report stating Miller’s departure from the contest was due to a groin injury, Richmond later indicated the small forward had been forced to the sideline after suffering cramps.

“Benny Miller had the full body cramps. He just couldn’t move,” Tigers teammate Nathan Broad revealed post-match.

“He could not move. He genuinely could not move. His whole body had shut down."

Speaking in his post-match media conference, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick backed-up Broad’s version of events.

“I think he had calf (injury) and was cramping quite significantly towards the end, but I think he tightened up in his calf as well,” Hardwick said.

“Might be OK, I’m not too sure, I haven’t gotten a response yet.”

Calls for AFL to tighten substitution rules

The controversy led to a chorus of calls for the AFL to tighten up the rule regarding player substitution.

Speaking on the broadcast, former Tiger Matthew Richardson said rules around how teams use the rule needed to be more black and white to avoid exploitation.

“There’s always going to be suspicion around these changes because they seem so tactical in terms of the timing of it,” Richardson said.

“It’s why you’d love the AFL to make a decision cut and dried, they either miss the next week or they can be subbed whenever they want because there’s always suspicion about it.”

Maurice Rioli Jr, pictured here in action for Richmond against Fremantle.
Maurice Rioli Jr in action for Richmond against Fremantle. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Herald Sun reporter John Ralph was in the same camp as Richardson, saying teams should just be allowed to use the substitution regardless of whether or not there is an injury.

“As Cats CEO Steve Hocking said, why not just make it a sub you can use at any time to take the suspicion out of it?” he said.

The drawn contest saw Fremantle move into third spot on the AFL ladder, while Richmond’s finals hopes remain on the cusp as they currently sit in eighth.

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