CARLTON'S highly respected fitness boss Andrew Russell has called for the AFL to implement four-man benches with an additional two substitutes upon its return to action in an effort to limit the burnout on players, with more games expected in a reduced period of time.
The League is still hopeful of completing its 153-game season at some stage this year, having been forced to suspend competition after round one due to the global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
A number of efforts to ensure the season is completed have either been implemented or floated, with game time already reduced to 16-minute quarters in order to ease the burden on players throughout the year.
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However, with the matches likely to be scheduled into an even more condensed period due to the loss of time, Russell believes reducing in-game risks by allowing clubs an additional two substitutes on the bench will helps players cope with the increased workload.
"How far we can push them, none of us really know," Russell said.
"We're all hypothesising, but (the shorter game time) does change it dramatically and we can take some more risks.
"We can do certain things when we get back and I'd like to see one or two subs that allow us to actually manage our players during a game.
"A lot of the time within an AFL game, you'll get to the second half and you'll have a decision to make with between one and three players.
"Do you leave them out there to enable you to win the game, stay in the game or get back in the game, but knowing if you keep them out there you could lose them for one, two or three weeks? We make those judgement calls all the time.
"It would be fantastic if some of the best players like Patrick Cripps are struggling and we can say, 'let's get him out of the game to ensure we get him back in four days' time'. Otherwise we'll let him play the whole game and we might miss him for three weeks.
"I think that flexibility is going to be super important, because we do string players out and we do take big risks with players every week. Reducing that in-game risk, I think that will be important."
Carlton has a number of players who enter the shutdown period in the rehabilitation group, including Charlie Curnow (knee), Harry McKay (groin), Matthew Kreuzer (foot), Zac Fisher (ankle), Brodie Kemp (knee), Eddie Betts (calf) and Nic Newman (elbow).
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A handful of those players have undergone surgery as a result of their injury issues, though cannot complete their recovery at the club due to AFL guidelines in the wake of the suspension of play.
However, Russell sees no issue in them managing their recovery from home and believes that daily phone conversations and one-on-one updates will help in their return to action.
"Some of them are no problem whatsoever because they know exactly what we want them to do," Russell said.
"We're in contact with them daily and so is (Carlton rehabilitation physio) Dan James, who is still on board working with the players and myself.
"We can still catch up with the players at a medical rehab clinic. We obviously are not allowed to go to the club, but if it's essential and we need to see them or change a program that's a really important part of where they're going then we can get our eyes on them.
"Obviously that's one-on-one with the player and we can change their program, then they can go away and do it.
"Up until this point in time, it's been pretty smooth."