THE BIG ISSUE: #25

By STEVE MASCORD

I HATE to say I told you so but the Challenge Cup final last week provided us with a perfect example of the Pandora’s Box that has been opened ahead of the finals by the NRL’s new concussion guidelines.

In case you missed it (he kind of did, too), Warrington fullback Brett Hodgson was poleaxed by Leeds prop Kylie Leuluai three minutes after halftime at Wembley Stadium. Team-mate Trent Waterhouse says Hodgson was out cold. Under NRL guidelines, supposedly, there would have been pressure for the former Wests Tigers star to leave the field and not come back.

Not only did he continue but he set up the next two tries, scored one himself and got the Lance Todd Trophy for man of the match!

Rugby league players have been doing this for years. The British game does not have the same allegedly-stringent regulations surrounding head-knocks as the NRL but does anyone seriously believe we will get through the finals without a player staying on the field when most people in the stands believe he should come off?

Do we seriously believe that as the stakes get higher, everyone involved won’t take more risks?

And what if a premiership is decided by a player – maybe like Hodgson – who current rules stipulate should not have been allowed to continue? Will we have weeks of post-mortems (I’m speaking figuratively here) and a cloud over what should be a great achievement?

Hodgson said on Saturday he could not remember much of the incident – NRL players are two scared to say that now for fear of implicating their doctors.

In this week’s A-List feature, Dallas Johnson talks about being knocked out four or five times in his career. “Obviously it concerns you,” he says. “You do worry about life after footy and 20 years down the track, how you’re going to be. I think the new rule they’ve brought in is good, personally. If you get knocked in the game and get a bit of concussion, I don’t think you should be allowed back on.

“But in saying that, to tell me in an Origin game I couldn’t go back on – I would have been filthy. The player always wants to go back on and do the best for the team but I think you do have to take it out of the player’s hands and the medical staff has to say ‘no, it’s for your safety’.”

Hodgson comments: “There’s no doubt I didn’t want to come off. We’re a weird bunch, us league players out there.

“It’s hard to differentiate when you shouldn’t be allowed to continue. It will be difficult to police. They asked me where we’re at, who we played last week, what’s the score, who scored last, whether you’ve got pins and needles …”

By now you are probably wondering where I’m going with all this. The Warrington coach, Tony Smith, reckoned: “If we go too far with it, we’re not going to have anybody on the rugby league field.”

I reckon he’s probably right. At the start of the year this column supported calls for independent doctors at every ground with absolute veto to force players from the field and keep them there. But that only works if you suspend assailants for a year or more every time they clock someone in the head.

If the punishment to the victim is disproportionate to the one the assailant faces, there is an INCENTIVE to take star players out of the game. There is no way on earth that was big Kylie’s intention but any new rule should be tested by a scenario whereby it’s a final, everything is on the line and people will go to extremes.

I fear this “crackdown” on concussion has been created with a scenario of it being round two and everyone’s in a good mood. Rules created with an ounce of optimism and faith in human nature don’t work. Look at anti-tampering and the June 30 deadline…..

Usually, we try to provide answers here and not just bag things. But I’m sorry, this column is going to be an exception. The concussion rules don’t work (could it be that players actually receive worse treatment in some circumstances because of the scrutiny?) and there’s nothing obvious we can replace them with.

Rugby league has simply bitten off more than it can chew in this department, unfortunately.

.

LAST week we went through the list of things in the new TV deal what were good for the game and those we thought were bad.

Shame on us for overlooking stand alone Origin weekends. Our game needs AT LEAST ONE weekend each year where everyone can represent their countries like other sports have, co-ordinated with the Super League. Three would be even better.

I see no indication that the ARLC is considering this. That’s sad.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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