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NRL ditches plan for independent doctors to assess concussion risk

Sickening: Chase Stanley after getting knocked out during the Dragons' Charity Shield match against Souths in 2012.

Sickening: Chase Stanley after getting knocked out during the Dragons' Charity Shield match against Souths in 2012. Photo: Anthony Johnson

The NRL has aborted plans to introduce independent doctors to monitor game-day concussions, believing club medicos are best qualified to determine player safety.

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’’.

Dangerous: Another Dragon, Cameron King, is taken from the field after a heavy head knock.

Dangerous: Another Dragon, Cameron King, is taken from the field after a heavy head knock. Photo: Mark Kolbe

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.


8 comments so far

  • Good idea. Ban independent doctors. So someone cops a blow to head. Get the sooks back on the field. No need to worry until years later. Before the NRL makes such a stupid decision, I have three words for them - duty of care. In any case, wouldn't a football club with a multi-million dollar playing roster want to protect their investment?

    The Dog
    Date and time
    February 20, 2014, 8:10AM
    • Trouble is these blokes always sound concussed so it would be difficult to diagnose!

      Date and time
      February 20, 2014, 8:54AM
      • The NRL are not empowering doctors to make good decisions about concussions if those doctors report to club management and there is no allowance within the game to substitute a concussed player without penalty.

        The obvious solution it seems to me is independent doctors and if a player is ruled out they are out for the rest of the game (at least) and can be interchanged without penalty.

        Science is showing how damaging concussion injuries are for players especially later in life. The NRL know this as evidenced by the change to the shoulder charge rule which was all about reducing concussions.

        If the NRL fail to act with club doctors continuing to send back out players who have been concussed as we've seen many times over the years, expect lawsuits in the future as the NRL will have failed in it's duty of care.

        Date and time
        February 20, 2014, 9:49AM
        • Intentions are good but like the old scrum rules the coaches, players and management will find a way to circumvent them i.e. the word of the law not the intention of the law.

          Date and time
          February 20, 2014, 11:17AM
          • When I first read this article I couldn’t believe in this day and age the NRL would not put the safety of their players at the forefront of all decisions in regard to head injuries and allow independent assessments.

            Then I realised it’s an article about the NRL and brain damage players.

            Enough said.

            Downing Not Waving
            Date and time
            February 20, 2014, 12:34PM
            • mark this article and decision by the nrl in your diary because sometime in the future the lawyers will want to sue the nrl for not looking after the health and safety of the players.

              Date and time
              February 20, 2014, 12:38PM
              • The NRL have a real problem with concussion and this gives the impression that they are doing nothing - other codes have stepped up to the mark but NRL who have thrived on their toughness need a real rethink

                Date and time
                February 20, 2014, 2:29PM
                • This is a poor decision. I for one do not wish to see a repeat of the David Stagg incident in the SOO game - he left the field not knowing where he was or even what he was supposed to be doing. Yet Big Mal threw him back on to the field when he ran out of mentally and physically fit replacements.

                  How does this decision align with the standard OH&S requirements that other employees have to follow. Yes I know that the players are employed by their respective clubs but the NRL has to ratify each contract and also establishes the rules under which the players play.
                  If the US football experience is anything to go by we can expect to see similar cases here in the near future. So come on Smith/Greenberg employ whatever brains you still have and ensure that our players are able to keep theirs!!!

                  saint mike II
                  Kiama D.
                  Date and time
                  February 20, 2014, 4:50PM

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