Head injuries disfigure Rugby League

Martyn Sadler
Martyn Sadler

First published in League Express, Monday 5th Aug 2013

Take a look at St Helens coach Nathan Brown’s comments about the latest injury to his stand-off half Gareth O’Brien by clicking here.
Brown was absolutely spitting after the game, because the player responsible for O’Brien’s injury, the Catalan’s Zeb Taia, was allowed to remain on the field.
He was put on report for an ‘alleged’ shoulder charge that put O’Brien out for the count.
Something similar had happened to O’Brien a couple of weeks ago, when he was knocked out by a challenge from Wigan forward Scott Taylor.
Taylor was not found guilty of any offence, following that incident.
Unfortunately there have always been head injuries in Rugby League, and it’s hard to imagine a time when there won’t be, even if we can reduce the number of times they occur.
But it’s an important issue.
As medical knowledge advances, doctors gain a greater understanding of how repeated head trauma can have a cumulative effect on the operation of the brain.
A significant number of former American Footballers who are suffering from the onset of dementia are suing the NFL, alleging that the governing body of that sport didn’t give them adequate protection when they were playing the game.
There could be a danger of that happening in this country for contact sports unless they can be seen to be taking action to minimise the risk.
I’m quite sure that the RFL and the clubs would claim to be doing that already.  And I’m sure they are working as conscientiously as they can to protect the players under their care.

Huddersfield's Luke Robinson receives treatment on the field against Hull FC at the start of July
Huddersfield’s Luke Robinson receives treatment on the field against Hull FC at the start of July

For example, Huddersfield Giants star Luke Robinson recently made a comment about the number of times he’s been knocked out while playing Rugby League.
He was knocked out in the Giants’ recent game at Hull, and afterwards reckoned he had been knocked out between 15 and 20 times in his career so far.
“I’ve had some bad ones but managed to stay on the field and carry on.  At Hull it was not until 20 minutes to half an hour later when I actually came around in the changing rooms,” he said.
I contacted Huddersfield about what Luke said.
Their response was that, in fact, Luke hadn’t been knocked out all those times, and had hardly ever been knocked unconscious in the true sense of the word.
The club emphasised the quality of its medical care, and I have absolutely no reason to doubt it.
Nonetheless, there is something surely wrong when a player can be carried off on a stretcher and the perpetrator of the foul play is allowed to carry on playing in the same game.
The problem in Perpignan was apparently that the match officials weren’t sure where the initial point of contact was.
And yet should that matter?
Regardless of where the initial contact is made, if an elbow ends up knocking out an opposition player, surely there should be a severe penalty for that offence.
The thing I hate to see more than anything else on a rugby pitch is a player being stretchered off the field, clearly unconscious.
We’ll never eliminate it completely, but we must try even harder.