With Richmond’s finals hopes in the balance during the last quarter of the eventual draw against Fremantle, key defender Ben Miller was substituted out of the game through injury with Maurice Rioli Jnr. coming on as a replacement.

It was move that likely would have been made if a substitute was allowed during a match at any time, with Richmond’s three other defensive talls in Dylan Grimes, Robbie Tarrant and Nathan Broad able to match up against Fremantle’s key forwards Matthew Taberner and Griffin Logue – seeing as Rory Lobb missed the match the injury and Nat Fyfe had already been subbed out.

While Rioli didn’t have a huge impact possession-wise, his pressure up around the ball was intense and he did win a holding-the-ball free kick to help Richmond send the ball inside 50.

For a player to be medically subbed out of a game, a club doctor needs to determine the following statement, as written in AFL legislation: “Due to the nature of the injury sustained, it is reasonably determined the player will be medically unfit to participate in any match for at least the next 12 days.”

The club must also provide a medical certificate that is approved by the AFL.

Explanations given on Miller’s injury by defender Nathan Broad and coach Damien Hardwick have both meant questions will be raised about the medical substitution.

“Benny Miller had the full body cramps. He just couldn’t move,” Broad said on Fox Footy post-match.

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

If this was the case, it is highly-debateable whether Miller is a chance to miss any match in the next 12 days.

In his post-match press conference, Hardwick was vague when asked to explain the Miller injury.

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

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

There is no suggestion Richmond has broken or bent the rules with the Miller substitution – as it is not known what the club doctor ruled on the defender’s injury.

But the point is the structure of the current medical sub rule means contention will surround many situations where players are subbed out – and it wouldn’t be nice to have this debate rage after a close preliminary final or grand final.

It’s worth noting after 10 rounds of the 2022 AFL season, 15 players had been substituted out of matches and then had lined up for their team the next week.

There is some pretty simple fixes to avoid the contention surrounding the medical sub rule.

The AFL could allow teams to make one substitution whenever they like, meaning coaches could either use to make a switch for tactical reasons or use it for insurance against an injury.

Or maybe as soon as a club uses their medical substitute, their opposition is allowed to use their sub at any time.

Both of these rule tweaks allow for a level-playing field regarding a medical substitution and will stop any conjecture regarding the rule.

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