Sport AFL Hardwick backs medical sub rule as season kicks off

Hardwick backs medical sub rule as season kicks off

Dustin Martin on show during the Round 1 AFL match between the Richmond Tigers and Carlton Blues at the MCG. Photo: AAP
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Richmond coach Damien Hardwick has backed the AFL’s contentious medical substitution, believing it will improve the game.

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

Hardwick was one of two senior coaches not involved in a meeting which ultimately led to an extra player being approved as a replacement for any teammate who suffers a game-ending injury.

But unlike Western Bulldogs counterpart Luke Beveridge, who on Thursday claimed the substitute creates a “whole series of headaches”, Hardwick supports the change, which was announced a day before the season started.

“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.”

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

Richmond’s sub, Jack Ross, was activated late in the third quarter as defender Nick Vlastuin injured his knee.

Blues coach David Teague believed that teams would adapt to the new rule but were in a difficult position with McDonald’s first game for the club.

“It’s not the way you really want to debut. We’re handing Lachie (Fogarty) and Adam (Saad) their jumpers before the game and we didn’t do it with Oscar because we weren’t sure if he was playing,” Teague said.