NRL chief medical officer Ron Muratore has warned that headgear does not protect players from damage inflicted by a shoulder charge after Johnathan Thurston revealed he had been left ''dazed'' from the hit that has Cronulla's Ben Pomeroy facing a season-ending suspension.
Pomeroy will tomorrow night become the first player to appear before the judiciary under the crackdown on contact with the head ordered by the ARL Commission in a bid to reduce the incidence of concussion in the game, which were further highlighted by a high tackle on St George Illawarra forward Josh Miller on Sunday.
Miller, who has a long history of concussions, was in a bad state after the tackle by Parramatta's Reni Maitua and under the NRL concussion policy introduced this year he could not return to the field.
However, the Herald was told the contact was only minor and there are doubts about his playing future as it is understood officials had written to his former club, Canberra, several years ago expressing concern about the number of head knocks he had sustained.
Maitua faces a two-match ban after being charged with a grade two careless high tackle, while Pomeroy's fate is uncertain after the commission last week instructed the match review committee to refer any incidents where a defender's shoulder makes contact with an opponent's head directly to the judiciary.
All precedents have also been wiped, meaning that the grade three dangerous contact charge that resulted in a three-match ban for South Sydney's Greg Inglis and grade two charge that cost Brisbane's Ben Te'o a two-match suspension cannot be used as comparisons at the hearing.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said Pomeroy, who has 73 carry-over points and a 20 per cent loading from a previous judiciary offence, would plead not guilty to the charge but Thurston continued to insist the Cronulla centre had made contact with his jaw. ''I was a little bit dazed when it happened but as soon as I got off the ground and sat down I was pretty much fine,'' Thurston said.
North Queensland coach Neil Henry said after Sunday's match at Toyota Stadium that he had initially been worried about the health of Thurston ''but he wears headgear''.
That comment prompted Muratore to contact the Herald to express his concern that players may think headgear will protect them from a concussion.
''The only thing headgear protects you from is lacerations around the scalp and face,'' Muratore said. ''That is really the only thing. For the concussion, it does nothing because concussion is the brain moving inside the skull and there is no way you can stop that. I don't know how we can get the message through to people and educate them that headgear makes no difference, and in fact if you give it to kids it often gives them a false sense of security.''
The edict issued by the ARLC last week suggests the commissioners were not happy that Inglis and Te'o had received downgrades on the charges initially imposed by the match review committee, which would have resulted in respective five- and four-match bans.
As a result, it has been strongly indicated that a harsh penalty is expected to be imposed on any player found guilty of a shoulder charge gone wrong but Flanagan said the Sharks planned to argue Pomeroy had not made contact with Thurston's head. ''From the camera angles we've got at the moment, there's no evidence that shows he's come in contact with the head,'' he said. ''Pom doesn't hit him in the head from what we've seen.''