Club bosses discussed a range of player welfare issues with NRL officials prior to the inaugural Auckland Nines tournament, including the prospect of tests for prescription medications.
The other key aspect was the introduction of new protocols around the diagnosis of concussions, including sideline assessments of players. The meeting was addressed by Paul McCrory, a professor of neurology who helped the AFL form its concussion guidelines.
The issue has been cast into the spotlight after a number of prominent NRL doctors quit at the end of last season over concerns team success was placed before player welfare.
Several incidents last season raised concerns, including allegations South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds was given smelling salts by a trainer following a head knock. Former All Blacks doctor John Mayhew spoke out about the incident at the time, claiming ‘‘I believe he was knocked out’’.
Some club doctors, such as Canberra’s Wilson Lo, publicly backed the proposal to provide independent doctors. However, the NRL’s head of football, Todd Greenberg, said the governing body had opted not to go in that direction.
‘‘It’s not something we’re currently looking at, no,’’ Greenberg said. ‘‘There have been some governance changes where doctors now report directly to CEOs and boards rather than coaches. We need to empower club doctors to allow them to act appropriately and make good decision about their players.’’
The NRL has already outlawed the shoulder charge to help protect players from head knocks and will outline new concussion guidelines ahead of round one.
The concussion debate is topical given the NFL agreed last August to spend almost $US800 million to diagnose or compensate former players who have developed conditions such as brain injury and dementia as a result of heavy collisions.
One of the new NRL initiatives will revolve around how interchanges can be tweaked to allow a thorough concussion diagnosis without disadvantaging the affected team.
‘‘Simply, it’s looking at an opportunity where players who receive concussive injuries have the ability to come off the field and be treated by the doctor within a period of time that doesn’t negate the tactics of the team, so a coach won’t have to use an interchange,’’ Greenberg explained.
‘‘We’re working through that at the moment. We have spoken to both coaches and clubs and they have given strong support.’’
The abuse of prescription drugs is another issue the ARLC is tackling.
The league is working is working with the Rugby League Players’ Association to finalise plans for prescription-drug testing to obtain data and facilitate early intervention.
The NZRL is currently investigating the Kiwis’ World Cup campaign following claims some players had mixed sleeping tablets and energy drinks during the tournament.
Some clubs, including the Warriors, have already banned sleeping tablets.