19/04/2024

Jake Stringer is working his way back to match fitness. Photo: Essendon FC

New density rules in the VFL and faster ball movement in the AFL has seen a seismic shift in the way both games are played. Essendon coach Ben Rutten is now exploring alternative ways to get match fitness into his young Dons and returning stars.

New density rules in the VFL and faster ball movement in the AFL have seen a seismic shift in the way both games are played. Essendon coach Ben Rutten is now exploring alternative ways to get match fitness into his young Dons and returning stars.

In the 22-team strong VFL competition, this season three players from each side must remain within each 50 metre arc during throw-ins and ball ups. Additionally, one of those pairs must remain in the goal squares at each end.

Speaking at The Hanger on Thursday, Rutten admitted the density rules had been a big adjustment for coaches and players alike.

“The VFL game isn’t the same as an AFL game, which is difficult, there’s no doubt about that”.

“How can we prioritise our AFL players to play more like the way we want to play in the AFL, that’s a balancing act”.

These changes have seen the tactics drastically differ between the AFL and its’ reserves level with Rutten being forced to push players higher up the ground and into unusual positions to get more match fitness into them.

WAFL’s leading goalkicker in 2020 and supplementary selection period recruit Alec Waterman is one such player being trialed in different areas of the ground so his physical workload can better match the expectations in an AFL game.

“He spent a bit of time last week in the VFL down back”, Rutten said.

“For Alex… we want to increase his conditioning, play more game time and give him a better opportunity to play AFL footy”.

Jake Stringer is another Essendon forward who has struggled to find match fitness on his way back from an Achilles complaint that curtailed his pre-season, forcing him to spend an additional week at the lower level.

“Jake won’t play in the AFL this week, he’ll play another game in the VFL”.

“Jake needs to be coming in fit and ready to perform, not just for the one week but for 22 weeks. What we’ve been seeing in the [AFL] games is we’ve had guys who have been training for ten weeks that are absolutely cooked at the end of games”.

“We need to ensure that Jake can handle the load, get through not only one game but the rest of the season, and play to the capability that we know that we can get from Jake”.

Not only are the density rules in the VFL interrupting preparations for players on their way back from injuries, but the medical substitute rule has forced coaches to consider rotating the ‘23rd’ player each week when they don’t get game time.

“[Tom Cutler] did some extra work after the game and he’ll train really hard this week, but it’s still not the same as a game, so we’ll need to weigh all that up”.

“Who else we’ve got available that we might want to bring over [to Adelaide] with us, ‘Cuts’ will certainly be in the mix – maybe to play – but we’ll also consider him as the sub again”

Rutten wouldn’t confirm if pick nine Archie Perkins would be making his debut in round two.

“Archie will be close, he’ll be around the mark”.

“He played again really well last week in the VFL… I’m sure it won’t be long until we see Archie, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be this week just yet.”

Essendon will be making the trip to Adelaide to take on the league leading Power on Saturday afternoon.

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