Cunningham questions i-Pitch role in Makinson injury

A season-ending injury to Tommy Makinson has refuelled the argument surrounding the safety on Widnes Vikings’ i-Pitch, with Saints coach Keiron Cunningham wanting the RFL to assess the effect it is having on players.

The winger’s year was cut short after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament during Saints’ victory at the home of the Vikings on Easter Monday.

Makinson suffered the injury when he sidestepped while carrying the ball, which forced his knee to buckle. Last week St Helens issued a statement predicting that Makinson will miss the rest of the season.

It has frustrated Cunningham, who believes that the injury could have been prevented had the match been taking place on a traditional grass surface.

“The old i-Pitch strikes again and wipes another player out for the season,” Cunningham told League Express.

“It definitely has contributed. There’s not as much give as natural grass and once your knee gets in a certain position grass would give way, but there’s a lot more damage on those pitches. We can’t do anything about it, but poor old Tommy will spend some time on the sideline.

“We need to have standards set across the board, and that goes with the pitches as well. If we’re all going to have it then we’d do it. We’ve got a 3G surface ourselves which we train on, but we try and stay off it as much as we possibly can because changing surfaces all the time does take its toll on bodies. Widnes are used to playing on it every week, but the problems arise for the teams that go there and aren’t used to it. I’ve played on it myself and it does respond differently. I’m not blaming the pitch for the injury, but it won’t be the last that you’ll see there. Three ankle injuries in one game is no coincidence.”

Cunningham’s last comment was a reference to Leeds’ recent visit to Widnes, when Tom Briscoe, Carl Ablett and Ashton Golding all picked up lower leg injuries on the same pitch.

There have been previous complaints about the pitch from within Super League. A number of clubs have commented on the quicker pace of the field while others have questioned the impact it has on players’ bodies as way back as in 2012, when Anthony Watts and Ben Kavanagh suffered serious injuries. There have also been graphic pictures posted online by players who have suffered severe grazes and cuts on the field.

The use of artificial surfaces isn’t specific to Rugby League but has caused similar levels of debate in other sports.

In rugby union, Leicester Tigers player Ed Slater revealed that he and England wing Jack Nowell had not been selected for matches at Newcastle’s Kingston Park because of long-standing knee issues and the risks of playing on the artificial turf, which is traditionally supported by elements of sand and rubber. Slater had suffered a severe knee injury playing at Saracens, who also use an artificial pitch, while Schalk Brits and Owen Williams have had knee injuries on 3G pitches, with the latter suffering a similar injury to Makinson’s.

There is also evidence that shows no difference in the number of injuries between natural and artificial pitches. The Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project, which has recently been published by Premier Rugby, compared the number of injuries on natural and artificial surfaces and found no difference in the quantity or severity of injuries.

The RFL carries out its own investigations of injury issues, as a spokesman told League Express.

“We conduct a joint Injury Study in partnership with the University of Bolton,” he said.

“We are just about to receive the written report for the 2015 season. We publish a brief synopsis of the main findings.”