Rugby league 'Immortal' Andrew Johns has joined a chorus of voices calling for a two-week break between the preliminary final and the NRL grand final, in response to the new concussion protocols that the game has adopted. The NRL this week introduced a mandatory 11-day stand-down period for concussed players, in a move aimed at reducing the risk brain injuries for players.
The massive change - which will come into immediate effect - comes after a spate of head knocks for players at the start of the season. The most notable of those saw Newcastle captain Kalyn Ponga suffer his fourth concussion in 10 months, sparking concerns for his future in the sport.
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The 11 day period between when a player is diagnosed with concussion symptoms and when they are allowed to return to the field has also thrown up other dilemmas, such as the NRL's biggest stars being ruled out of the grand final. One such idea to counter that problem is to follow the lead of the NFL, which has a two week break between the conference finals and the Super Bowl, allowing players extra time to recover from injuries and/or concussions and helping ensure that the best players take the field.
Speaking on Wide World of Sports' Immortal Behaviour program, Johns said "without a doubt" that there should be a week off after the two preliminary finals, in response to the NRL's new mandatory 11-day stand-down period for concussions. He said rugby league fans would be bitterly disappointed if someone like Latrell Mitchell was ruled out of the grand final because of concussion or injury, when a small tweak to the schedule could mitigate that risk.
"Have the weekend off, have a two-week build-up for the game, then the stars can all play," Johns said. "Also that way if someone gets a niggle, sprains an ankle, you give them 14 days to recover. I think it's something we need to talk about. "
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It's understood senior NRL figures have already ruled out such a move - at least for this season. It follows similar calls from NRL 360 panelist Michael Carayannis and co-host Paul Kent, earlier in the week.
“It’s interesting that it’s 11 days... It’s going to be interesting around Origin particularly, and around semi-finals and grand finals. Players will miss the grand final under this protocol,” Carayannis said. “It lends itself to the question, should they have a week off before the grand final after the prelim?
“At the moment they said there was no appetite, it hadn’t been discussed. But if it gets to a stage where we lose three or four players in a prelim because of a concussion, there’s no doubt that’ll be on the agenda.”
Kent added: “A club will scream from the hilltops when it happens to them. That’s just the way it happens... It’ll happen, maybe not this year but at some point in the future, some player, and if it’s a star player even worse, someone will be wiped out because of this.
“At that point the discussion will be held again. I dare say, in ten years’ time we probably will be having a two-week break before the grand final just for this reason.”
Regardless, the NRL's new 11-day stand-down period has received an overwhelming tick of approval from players and coaches such as Manly's Anthony Seibold and Wests Tigers forward Shaun Blore, who sat out the Tigers' round two defeat to Newcastle after sustaining a concussion in round one. Cronulla's Toby Rudolf also admitted: “It’ll be disappointing to miss out on the big games for sure, but our health comes first. I’m sure it’ll be a good rule.”
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