Shane Flanagan predicts huge change as fans call out ‘disgusting’ NRL rule amid Dragons loss

The Dragons were left down a man after Moses Suli was knocked out.

The NRL world has called out the 18th HIA rule after the Dragons were left short a man for the ANZAC Day clash with the Roosters after a sickening collision in the first tackle left Moses Suli concussed. The debate over whether to change NRL rules around the kick-off has once again returned after the Dragons' clash started off poorly and continued that way as tehy were humiliated 60-18.

Dragons centre Suli was out of the game only 10 seconds into the contest after colliding heads with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves off the first hit-up of the game. His teammates were immediately concerned when Suli was lying on the floor motionless after Waerea-Hargreaves charged into the Dragons defensive line and collided with him.

Zac Lomax and NRL player Moses Suli knocked out.
The NRL world has called for a change to the 18th man HIA rule after the Dragons were left short a man for the ANZAC Day clash with the Roosters after Moses Suli (pictured right) was concussed. (Images: Getty Images/Channel Nine)

After being helped to his feet, Suli left the game with only a few seconds on the clock and he never returned. The kick-off debate took off a few weeks ago when an NFL style start was suggested to avoid the heavy contact at the start of the game, which can often cause head knocks.

However, fans have also pointed out another rule that left the Dragons cruelly playing with 16 men for the remainder of the contest. Because Suli was not concussed due to an illegal play and he wasn't the second player on the Dragons team to be ruled out through HIA protocols, coach Shane Flanagan wasn't able to bring in their 18th man. substitute.

This left the Dragons a man-down down for the remainder of the contest as they were not able to bring in Michael Molo on the bench. Phil Gould said on Channel Nine commentary the team were disadvantaged in losing a centre so early.

"It will be interesting to see how they line-up now, that is not easy to replace an outside back. It will mean a forward will have to play in the centres or maybe on the edge, or maybe put Flanagan in the centres," Gould suggested. In 2023, the NRL changed the rules so the 18th man sub could be used after two players were ruled out through HIA, not three.

However, NRL fans on Thursday took aim at the ruling and questioned why a team shouldn't be able to use their 18th man when a player is ruled out through no fault of their own. On a day where both the Roosters and Dragons play the contest with extra intensity due to the special occasion on ANZAC Day, fans felt the Dragons were at a huge disadvantage to be playing close to 80 minutes with a man down.

The NRL introduced new ruling around kick-offs and drop outs in 2024 to encourage shorter attempts so teams can regain the ball. This was also in part to reduce the chances of a player getting a concussion from a big hit-up. But the debate around rule changes to the kick-off has resurfaced after the Suli incident.

Moses Suli (pictured right) was knocked out after a collision with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in the clash against the Roosters. (Images: Channel Nine)
Moses Suli (pictured right) was knocked out after a collision with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in the clash against the Roosters. (Images: Channel Nine)

The opening scenes in the ANZAC day clash had many NRL fans also suggesting the restart would be changed in the near future. And Dragons coach Flanagan admitted the early concussion was horrible and it also derailed the team's plans from the get-go.

“It’s a terrible way to start a game, and we did miss him because he’s powerful from the back of the field. We couldn’t win that battle from the back of the field and we were always kicking from inside our 40,” Flanagan said in the post-match press conference.


“We want to play this really tough gladiator sport, and we want to get down there – especially off kick-offs – and have really good contact with front-rowers. But we see it too often. I don’t know the answer, but we see it too often. When it happens to one of your players, it’s not nice to see. I don’t know how we stop it, unless we start with a play the ball, and that’s not something I’d like to see.

“In the modern game, we can’t have these concussions. We need to look after the players. The short dropouts and all that have probably changed it a little bit, but I don’t know the answer.”

Roosters coach Trent Robinson felt for the Dragons and Suli after the game and admitted the NRL might have to look at the kick-off after so many concussions. “It’s a really hard one because I love kick-offs because they set a statement to how we wanted to play today,” Robinson added.

“But we don’t want to see that for Moses. I think we can see that we’re getting to the point where it needs to shift. I think they tried to do it through the short kick-offs, but it’s not enough. Field position is still a really big part of the game, so you need to get down there. I think we’re getting closer to a change soon.”