Phil Gould cops backlash over comments about NRL concussion debate

Phil Gould's contentious take on the independent doctor has been torn to shreds.

Pictured left to right, Phil Gould and Paul Kent.
Paul Kent was among those to blast Phil Gould's criticism of the independent doctor in the NRL. Pic: Getty/Fox Sports

Rugby league icon Phil Gould has been savaged over his controversial take on the concussion debate gripping the game. Gould this week 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.

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 in the NRL on Friday night, when Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga was forced off in the late stages with the game on the line. The debate is the hottest in the game after a chorus of coaches, led by heavyweights Ricky Stuart and Wayne Bennett, criticised the independent doctor for being overly conservative in ordering players off for HIAs. None were more scathing than Gould though.

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"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 on Channel Nine show '100% Footy'. "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."

The Bulldogs supremo and veteran commentator went on to stress that independent doctors should be scrapped and it should go back to the club doctors to decide whether or not a player comes off the field. However, Gould's comments were taken to task by NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent, who suggested it was reckless of Gould to question the role of the independent doctors, in an age where the full extent of information around head knocks and concussions is largely unknown.

“Phil Gould is so misguided on this,” Kent said on NRL 360. “So he says, not every bump to the head is a concussion and not every concussion is life threatening. How does he know which is which though?

“Or are we better off erring on the side of caution? He doesn’t know. Nobody knows. The whole point of all this brain science that we are going through now not just in rugby league, but in competitions around the world is that nobody knows.

“We have got things that can make you live longer with your heart, but you can’t improve the brain once it is damaged. The fact is, not every bump to the head is a concussion, absolutely right. But how do you know which one is which?”

Gould's comments were also torn to shreds by physiotherapist and injury analyst, Brien Seeney, who runs the NRL Physic account and frequently provides an educated perspective on players' injuries. Among Gould's many gripes was the fact independent doctors were adjudicating on head knocks from the Bunker which the NRL Physio insisted was no different from the way doctors monitor the actions of players on the field for signs of concussion.

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.

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.

Luke Keary defends role of independent doctor

Roosters star Luke Keary - who has also suffered multiple concussions during his career in the NRL - leapt to the defence of the independent doctors. Keary said while he understood the frustration from clubs about seeing their star players removed from the field - often at crucial times - the players themselves are grateful somewhere is out there looking after their welfare.

"It's definitely the way to go. It takes it away from clubs," Keary said on Tuesday. "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.

Seen here, Roosters star Luke Keary in the NRL.
Roosters star Luke Keary has had a history of concussions and is glad the independent doctors are used in the NRL to monitor players for symptoms. Pic: Getty

"Even if we don't all say it, we all appreciate it that someone is actually sitting there looking out for us. 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."

with AAP

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