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Bench turnstile slows down

David Burtenshaw  March 21, 2016 8:58 AM

Midfielders including Rory Sloane will make less visits to the bench in 2016

Midfielders including Rory Sloane will make less visits to the bench in 2016

How can a rule change make so much difference to game day logistics when it was irrelevant only seven years ago?

The new AFL cap of 90 rotations per team per game is expected to increase the load of the players but it will also significantly add to the workload for the off-field team, who need to manage the breaks and not waste changes.

Although it is only seven seasons since the AFL average team rotations first climbed past 100 per game, the players and coaches have become accustomed to players going on and off the round without any need for a strict monitoring system.

All clubs will take time to adapt. Having no sub and four available on the bench adds some flexibility but midfielders can no longer take a breather whenever they want and instead will be seen going forward more, while some other players will need to occasionally help cover midfield type roles.

How clubs allocate the available rotations will become clearer in the early rounds but most players are going to start the game knowing how many breaks they are scheduled to use every quarter in the match.

Adelaide made 20 changes in the first term of Friday night’s game on the Gold Coast, compared to an average of 29 in first quarters of the 2015 premiership season.

But the monitoring required is deeper than the raw numbers. The minutes played by all will be watched carefully, the players will need to understand the particular role they are taking when they come on, and the coaches box needs the right number of players to be in the right positions as players swap on-field positions.

It is only eight years since 90 rotations would have been more than enough for the AFL competition.

Collingwood was the first club to average more 90, in the 2008 season, when Adelaide averaged 66 rotations per game – three times more than it averaged in 2003.

The climb continued, with Collingwood averaging 105 rotations in 2009 and then the Western Bulldogs taking it further in 2010 (130 per game) when the competition average was 117.5.

It was Adelaide which lifted rotations to an all-time high, under new coach Brenton Sanderson in 2012. The Crows had an average of 154 changes per game and the competition average was 131.

In 2013, the last season before a 120-cap was introduced, Adelaide dropped back to an average of 144.

Interestingly, the numbers show that average game time per player could actually reduce this year.

Since the introduction of the sub, the overall game time for the 18 players on the field has been essentially split between 21 players. Now teams will have 22 players to share the load.

The difference will be, however, that a midfielder might have one break of four or five minutes in a term compared to previously grabbing two quick breaks of 90 seconds.