The NRL plans to lower the number of allowed interchanges from 10 to eight, while introducing a shot clock for scrums and kicks, such as line dropouts, yet persistent breaches of the concussion rule will negate the code’s drive towards producing attrition late in games.
The unspoken fear is that rugby league is moving inexorably towards being a big man’s sport and moves to tire players, such as reducing the number of interchanges and imposing a time limit to restart play, will make match-winners of the little halves and hookers.
Some very influential past coaches, players and commentators are so alarmed at the trend to bigness and raw power that they are agitating for six replacements.
It is understood that influential league figures have already had discussions with NRL head of football Todd Greenberg about cutting the interchange to six players.
A major media campaign threatens if the NRL does not make the radical change. However, recent breaches of the concussion rule, by both NRL teams and the NRL itself, compromise and confuse the strategy to promote speed and skill at the expense of power.
NRL teams, aware they receive a free interchange when a player is concussed, encourage players to feign injury, while club officials manipulate the time they are rested and reviewed by medical staff.
Last Monday night, in the match between the Storm and Eels, at the end of the half-time break, Parramatta declared that one of their players was concussed, meaning his period off the field started from the time it was reported.
Unless the head injury was the result of some violent motivational face-slapping in the dressing room, we would have to assume his
concussion resulted from the last play of the first half. Yet the Eels were allowed to have all of half-time added to his compulsory rest time from the game.
The NRL blundered, too.
In the 68th minute, Storm winger Richard Kennar was seen stumbling and staggering after attempting to make a tackle.
He was clearly distressed and both the Storm’s field trainer and medical trainer attended to him.
The field trainer yelled out to the referee that an injured player needed assistance, yet play continued.
Storm players Blake Green and Kurt Mann joined the chorus crying for play to stop. Yet play continued for four tackles and the Eels scored a match-winning try.
Kennar stumbled only 15 metres from touch judge Kasey Badger and, although the medical trainer was vocal in seeking her attention, she followed play downfield.
Had the Storm pushed Kennar into the defensive line, occupying a space, Parramatta might not have sent the ball to his wing and the try might not have been scored.
As it transpired, a Storm player made a defensive error in attempting to stop the try, a move he would not have made if the winger was in the line.
Yet, if the Storm disregarded Kennar’s health and shoved him into the defensive line, they would have risked a $10,000 fine for a breach of the concussion rule.
In a report to the NRL, the Storm’s head trainer, Craig Sultana, says the inconsistency from officials in regards to concussion is alarming.
“It has created a great deal of confusion for us as on field trainers [because] there are incidents where officials stop play correctly to get the right care for players and times in this instance where the game seems to forget about injured players,” he said.
The NRL investigated the incident, using eagle cam, audio communication and interviewed match officials.
As an olive branch to the Storm, the NRL conceded: “As a result of this incident we will again remind all match officials of the need for awareness of players who have suffered a head injury so as they can be properly attended by medical staff of clubs.”
Of the inaction by the touch judge closer to the incident, the NRL claimed: “At no stage did any Storm trainer approach her or did she hear a report notifying her of the need to stop play.”
The NRL pointed out it is the responsibility of club trainers to stop a match because they have more medical education than referees and touch judges.
The report admits: “We do not have a rule for match officials to automatically stop matches in the event of a player suffering a head injury.”
It is a chilling warning that if the NRL does not clarify its concussion protocol, measures to tire players by dropping interchange to eight, or certainly six, will produce some serious rorting of players’ health.
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