FIFTY Warrnambool and District league under 17½ players have tasted senior football this season thanks to a landmark substitution rule.
Of those teenagers, almost half — 22 out of the 50 — have featured in the starting side for their clubs after initially getting a taste of the big time as a sub.
The figures feature among a range of statistics league officials released to The Standard yesterday to highlight the initiative’s success.
All 12 WDFNL clubs have used at least three different teens as the sub. South Rovers have used seven — the most across the league.
Allansford and Merrivale have blooded six each while Timboon Demons have had five start as the substitute.
But the figures do not include still-eligible juniors who are playing seniors but have never been the sub. The overall figure could be about 55 or 60.
WDFNL executive member Carey Hackett said the figures justified the introduction of the rule, first used by the Picola and District league, near Shepparton.
Hackett said WDFNL records suggested between eight and 18 juniors had tasted senior action in each of the last five years — considerably lower than 50.
“Fifty players in 11 games, I’m happy with that,” he said.
“Once (clubs) see the numbers, a few of them will get a shock, especially with 22 being the sub first and then being a part of the starting 21.”
Hackett said developing teen footballers was the biggest aim of the sub rule.
Senior coaches did not have to destabilise their side to trial those who had promise.
The juniors benefited from testing themselves in a better-standard match.
“That’s the whole key to it; development of these junior boys,” Hackett said.
“They can move into the senior ranks a lot easier and the coaches can look at them without disturbing their senior sides.
“And looking at the future, these boys know they have the confidence to go out of the 17s and play senior competition and not panic.
“The parents are a bit more at ease as well. They know their son can achieve that.”
Hackett said the league hoped the sub rule would help clubs retain teens who had finished their junior careers but did not feel ready for seniors.
Many such players leave the WDFNL to play in the Hampden league under 18½ competition — an ongoing issue for the league.
The idea is if they discover they can hold their own at senior level, they are more likely to stay at their current clubs.
“Instead of playing Hampden under 18s, they’re going to think ‘I’m going to have a crack at District league seniors’,” Hackett said.