Luke Keary's telling response after Phil Gould slams NRL 'abomination'

The Sydney Roosters player has come out in defence of the controversial initiative.

Luke Keary, pictured here alongside Phil Gould.
Luke Keary has defended the NRL's independent doctor following criticism from Phil Gould. Image: Getty

Luke Keary has leapt to the defence of the NRL's under-fire independent doctor after a raft of criticism from some including Phil Gould. Speaking on Monday night, Gould described the introduction of the independent doctor as "the greatest abomination perpetrated on our game in history" after an opening round in which several matches were overshadowed by contentious HIA (Head Injury Assessment) calls.

As education around head knocks and the dangers associated with concussion have become more prominent in the sport, independent doctors have been brought in as an added layer of protection for the players. They monitor a multitude of TV angles for signs of concussion and can inform the on-field referee from the Bunker whether to halt play and send a player off for an HIA.

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The system, which was introduced last year, allows club doctors to tend to injured players while ensuring that no potential concussions go unsighted. The NRL says part of the reason independent doctors were introduced is because clubs regularly complained about their rivals exploiting the rules by keeping potentially injured players on the field.

The issue came to a head on several occasions in the opening round, perhaps most notably in Newcastle's 20-12 loss to the Warriors on Friday night, when Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga was forced off in the late stages with the game on the line. Ponga went off despite protesting that he was fine after sliding head-first into Addin Fonua-Blake's hips.

Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien said he was baffled by the call at the time and fellow coaches Wayne Bennett and Ricky Stuart have since called for the independent doctor to be scrapped after similar incidents in their respective matches. Canberra fullback Sebastian Kris and Canterbury winger Jacob Kiraz also appeared unhappy when asked to leave the field in the opening round.

Speaking on Channel Nine show '100% Footy' on Monday night, Gould and NRL great Paul Gallen let rip at the introduction of the independent doctor, suggesting it is ruining the game. Gould said the constant debate around head knocks and concussion was "confusing" for the players.

"I've talked [about] this concussion hysteria and where the game is headed and why it's headed that way and who they've given weight to: media and doctors and lawyers," Gould said. "I think the doctor in the Bunker is the greatest abomination perpetrated on our game in history.

"It's confusing for players. Not every bump to the head is a concussion, not every concussion is life-threatening . It's just total overkill. I don't know how the players and the coaches are going to contend with this. I understand player welfare. So do clubs, so do coaches, so does everybody, so do doctors.

"Unfortunately the club doctors are put in a position where they want the independent doctor because they don't want to have to make the decision themselves. It's just too difficult. It's not going to change, the game will not back away from this, they will keep doing it and it's going to create more and more problems."

Luke Keary goes in to bat for independent doctors

Gould went on to say that independent doctors ruling players out of the game from the Bunker was "ridiculous", while Gallen argued that it should go back to being adjudicated on by the club doctors only. "No one knows the players better than the club doctor ," Gallen said.

"You can't question the integrity of the club doctor and I've got no doubt there wouldn't be a club doctor in the game that would cheat the system or do the wrong thing. I've got no doubt."

But Roosters five-eighth Keary, one of the most concussion-prone players in the game, said he totally disagrees with the criticism and says his peers also privately appreciate having the independent doctor watching over them. Keary said on Tuesday: "It's definitely the way to go. It takes it away from clubs.

"There's a designated doctor sitting there just watching that. As much as it's frustrating sometimes if they might have got it wrong, as a player we appreciate it. Even if we don't all say it, we all appreciate it that someone is actually sitting there looking out for us.

Luke Keary, pictured here leaving for a Head Injury Assessment in 2022.
Luke Keary leaves for a Head Injury Assessment in 2022. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

"It's hard sometimes. Some of them are very hard to judge. They're going to get some wrong. But our docs are in the dressing rooms with people doing the concussion protocols to get back on, they're looking at other stuff and there's a lot of things going on at the actual ground so it's good.

"Even to spot one, a trainer's got to spot one. It's very hard to do in the game. So having someone external away watching it, it's the right way to go."

Addressing the situation on Monday, NRL Head of Football Graham Annesley was bullish around the use of the independent doctors in round one. He was adamant that it was better to err on the side of caution, rather than run the risk of exposing an injured player to further damage.

“Do they err on the side of being conservative? Well, maybe so," he said. “But wouldn’t we all rather they erred on the side of being conservative when it comes to the health of a player, rather than erring on the side of being too liberal in how they apply their judgement, and a player stays on the field and gets another knock – a more serious knock – that compounds the injury in the first place?"

with AAP

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