The Richmond Tigers were accused of exploiting a controversial substitution rule for a concussion during Friday night’s draw against Fremantle Dockers at Marvel Stadium.
The medical substitute rule was introduced prior to the 2021 season, but quickly became a point of contention within the AFL community.
Watch every popular NFL game this weekend live and ad-free while playing on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now>
In the final quarter of a Round 19 game, Richmond defender Ben Miller was substituted for young forward Maurice Rioli Jr., but there was uncertainty about the exact nature of the 22-year-old’s injury.
John Ralph of the Herald Sun initially reported that Miller had a “groin injury” before Tigers teammate Nathan Broad claimed he had full-body cramps.
“Benny Miller was having complete body spasms. He told Fox Footy he couldn’t move.
“He couldn’t move. He really couldn’t move. His whole body had locked down.”
Richmond coach Damian Hardwicke explained at the post-match press conference: “I think he had a calf…and he was cramping quite a bit towards the end, but I think he pulled his leg muscles as well.
“I might be fine, I’m not quite sure, I haven’t received a response yet.”
Rioli Jr, smaller and faster than Miller, made an immediate impact after joining the competition, contributing to two eliminations and two tackles during a tense fourth quarter.
So the medical replacement surprised football critics, who questioned whether the change in personnel was a tactical ploy.
NFL law states that a medical substitution can only be made if “a player has been determined to be medically unfit to participate in any game for at least 12 days”.
But that wasn’t the case – after 10 rounds of the 2022 AFL season, 15 players were substituted out of matches and then lined up for their squad the following week.
“There will always be skepticism about these changes because they look very tactical in terms of their timing,” former Richmond striker Matthew Richardson told Channel Seven.
“That’s why you love the NFL making a cut decision and drying it up, either they miss next week or they can be subdued whenever they want because there’s always doubt about that.”
Richmond doctors are now required to provide the AFL with a medical certificate as proof of Miller’s injury, and the club can be penalized if it is found to have violated the medical surrogacy rule.
In what was just Fremantle’s second draw in 622 NFL games, young Tigers player Noah Cumberland could have been the champion when he scored a mark on the 50-meter streak seconds before the end of the game.
But the 21-year-old kept playing as the siren soundedwhich put the two teams in a draw 7.10 (52) against 7.10 (52).
Thirty seconds before the Cumberland mark, Fremantle’s Jordan Clarke made a decisive intervention on Richmond’s Liam Baker streaming into the pocket, stopping a game-winning chance.
With only 90 seconds left, Richmond had another chance to get their noses up front when Fremantle’s James Aich passed it to Andrew Brayshaw in the half-defense position, but Brayshaw dropped the mark, allowing Baker to pounce and pass to Noah Balta. 55 m away from the goal.
However, the Big Tiger took too long to make his shot on goal and the referee asked the referee to play, allowing Michael Frederick to snuff out the kick.
Fremantle was also guilty of missed opportunities in the last quarter; Shots on goal from Caleb Sirong, Michael Walters and Will Brody all failed to score while Griffin Logue missed a free kick from 45 meters up front.
Richmond defended grimly and after Fremantle equalized, the Tigers secured a goal against the playing track via Bolton Shay. Soon after, Billy Banfield responded with what would eventually be the equalizer.
If the Bulldogs beat Melbourne or, more realistically, St Kilda beats the West Coast, the Tigers would find themselves outside the top eight. Meanwhile, Fremantle will fall out of the top four this weekend if Collingwood defeats Essendon.
In a disappointing blow to the Dockers, Captain Fyfe misjudged himself in the third quarter to put the remainder of his away season under a cloud.
– With Ronnie Lerner, NCA NewsWire