Supporters of the new rule – where teams have one bench player who is a substitute and can only be replaced once in a game - claim that the Geelong, Carlton and Adelaide situations over the weekend are evidence that the new rule is a success. Really? In each of these cases, the three teams lost players to game-ending injuries early in the first quarter (Carlton losing Waite under the new ‘knocked out’ rule, which in itself is subject to a whole different argument), only to bring the substitute on as a replacement. Supporters of the rule (and, it seems, most commentators of the game) seem to argue that this allowed both teams to continue in the match on even terms, allowing the game to be a more balanced contest. A great big tick for the new statute.
But is this really what we want? Isn’t one of the more attractive elements of our great game the fact that it is a game of attrition – a hard, demanding, physical battle where, despite enduring some losses, teams band together as a group and fight to the end for victory? Isn’t it that overcoming of a seemingly insurmountable hurdle that is the sweetest of successes?
Does this new rule mean that next season we will have two substitutes – just in case one team gets two serious injuries in one match? Then three, four or five? Does it mean in a decade we will have, in a similar vein to American football, a team of ‘substitutes’ sitting on the bench to ensure that one team doesn’t get an advantage from the desperate demands of our game?
Personally, I don’t like it. Teams that make the substitute early – for form or match-up issues – and then get a serious injury are now at a disadvantage, as they have a physically capable player sitting on the bench who is banned from returning to the match. This is the most ridiculous aspect of the new rule, and one that just doesn’t seem to make any sense – and could lead to players returning to the field who are clearly not physically up to it, just to keep up the numbers.
Yes, yes – I know it becomes a tactical decision, but isn’t the game tactical enough already without this added to the mix? Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but the stats also show that it hasn’t slowed down rotations – if anything, it’s done the opposite and actually created more as teams try and keep their on-field players fresher and more capable of quick bursts of play.
Given that the introduction of the substitute was supposedly to slow down the rotations and hence the pace of the game – and, and this early stage, the opposite seems to be occurring – the question must be asked: what’s the point of it all?