NRL concussion move throws up massive grand final question

Calls are growing for a major change in the wake of the NRL's new concussion protocols.

This picture shows Newcastle captain Kalyn Ponga being checked after a head knock in the NRL.
The NRL has introduced new concussion protocols in the wake of several incidents in the first two rounds of 2023. Pic: Getty

The NRL's newly announced concussion protocols have sparked a massive debate around the grand final and other major games, amid concerns the game's brightest stars could be wiped out of the biggest contests. On Wednesday, the NRL announced a mandatory 11-day stand-down period for concussed players, in a massive change aimed at reducing the risk brain injuries for players.

The move brings the NRL in line with World Rugby rules, with the stand-down period being implemented with success in the 15-man code overseas. It means that NRL players who have suffered a concussion will miss up to two matches in order to recover properly from any head knocks.

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The new changes will come into effect immediately, and were brought on in part due to the alarming concussion sustained by Newcastle's Kalyn Ponga last weekend. It is the biggest change to the NRL's concussion protocol since head injury assessments (HIA) were introduced in 2014 and has been widely praised across the rugby league world.

However, the new protocols have thrown up inevitable questions around players missing a grand final, or other big matches such as State of Origin or finals contests. Speaking about the issue on NRL 360 on Wednesday night, rugby league journalist Michael Carayannis said the NRL adopt a similar approach to American football as a possible solution.

The NFL has a two-week break between conference finals and the Super Bowl, giving injured players extra time to recover for the biggest game of the year. Carayannis said it was something the NRL should seriously consider implementing, as it would mean any player serving a mandatory 11-day stand-down due to concussion, would still be able to play in the grand final.

“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.”

Debate rages over NRL concussion protocols

NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent said the new concussion protocols would inevitably throw up some dilemmas around teams and their star players in 2023. He warned that clubs would be filthy about losing their best players for crucial games in 2023.

“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,” Kent said.

“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' loss 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.”

Seen here, NRL players suffering from concussion symptoms.
The NRL has introduced new protocols which will stand down NRL players diagnosed with concussion for a mandatory 11-day period. Pictures: Getty Images

NRL great James Graham and Fox League’s James Hooper have both argued that the new concussion protocols have largely been brought in to “protect players from themselves”. That notion has been supported by Roosters playmaker Luke Keary, who despite suffering several concussions of his own, admits players are rarely willing to leave the field unless ordered to do so. Hooper says while the league schedule remains as it is, fans will just have to accept the reality that star players will miss some of the most high-profile games.

“We’ve seen players miss big games through other injuries, Tommy Turbo and Latrell Mitchell didn’t feature in last year’s Origin series through injuries,” Hooper said. “We are just going to have to accept concussion, it’s a brain injury.”

with AAP

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