PAUL GALLEN: The HIA rules are a mess. Here is a potential fix for the NRL, which also faces a legal concern.
NRL great PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY on Monday night, debating rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in from 10.15pm AEST, following all the action of round six!
Gus Gould says on 100% Footy all the time that players and coaches work out how to cheat, then they go right ahead and cheat.
I wouldn’t call it cheating, but exploiting the rules to the best of your ability and doing whatever you’ve got to do to get a result? Absolutely. Everyone does that – as we’re seeing with HIAs currently.
The HIA rules are a mess. I’ve said that from the start. They are there to be exploited and you can hardly blame clubs for doing so. By the letter of the law, they’re not doing anything wrong by rorting the rules for extra interchanges.
Meanwhile, the NRL’s major concern with concussions and HIAs is about litigation, as we’ve seen in the NFL. Players coming back 20 years or so after their careers have ended and suing the game.
That’s what this is really all about. We all know it. The NRL are trying to mitigate that happening.
Given those two sets of circumstances, I think it’s gotten to the point now where if you have to come off for an HIA, you’re done for the day. Out of the game.
If the NRL are that serious about concussion and that concerned about players coming back in the future with lawsuits, have an independent doctor, have a five-man bench and if a player gets taken off for an HIA, he can’t come back. It tightens the NRL’s concussion protocols and closes the interchange loophole.
That’s where the modern game finds itself. There’s a clear necessity for strong rules on head knocks, even if some perspective on the issue is needed.
Rugby league has been around for 113 years. People have been openly concerned about concussion for only about 10 years.
For more than a century in rugby league, we didn’t have HIA rules and respectfully, the game in the past was absolute thuggery. They got out there and had a fight in the first scrum and if the opposition hadn’t been softened up enough, fought again in the second scrum.
Where are all the blubbering messes from the last 100 years? Where are all these blokes painting ducks on the wall?
Concussion and CTE are certainly an issue for some people but I think for the majority, they’re not. I can only think of a handful of examples, such as the James McManus lawsuit against the Newcastle Knights.
Yet the game’s now in a position where it may have to make a hard-and-fast rule about players being removed from games after head knocks, to limit the threat of future litigation.
Concussion is taken seriously by modern players. There’s been so much talk and hype about it, so much attention on what’s gone on overseas in other sports, players, administrators and fans can’t help but be conscious of the issue.
We recently saw Jake Friend retire after a number of concussions, having spoken with specialists. Wade Graham was knocked out in round five, his second head knock in a couple of weeks, and knew that he was going to need time off.
I think we’re past the days of rugby league being a tough man’s sport, with regards to playing on through head knocks. While it’s still a hard game, the ‘play on’ mentality of the past has changed a fair bit. We’re not going back to the old days.
So, I think the NRL has to go further the other way. If you have to come off for an HIA, you’re done for the day; for player welfare, sure, but also because the current rules are just getting rorted.
Everyone knows it’s getting rorted. Everyone. It’s becoming ridiculous.
The Harry Grant incident on the weekend … from my understanding, if you’re laying prone as he was and fall motionless to the ground as he did, almost a flash knockout, he should have had to come straight off.
Yet he scores a try minutes later and just to show how much of a joke it is, he later comes off under an HIA replacement in the last five or 10 minutes.
Then there’s the 30-second Cameron Munster HIA interchange. It’s just ridiculous.
I’m not having a go at Melbourne Storm here. Everyone does it. These are just the circumstances we saw on the weekend.
Again, you can’t blame the clubs for working around the rules that are in place. It is what it is. You exploit every rule you can to win. That’s professional sport. If you didn’t have players and coaches trying to bend rules to gain an advantage, you wouldn’t even need referees on the field.
So unless the NRL act, HIA rorts are just going to keep happening.
You appoint independent doctors and if they make the call, ‘This player needs to come off and he’s done for the day’, that’s it. That’s what I think should happen.
Conducting an on-field test may take too long but there’s enough technology available that you could have a screen for the doctor to review footage of the incident, the player’s reaction and their body language to make a decision.
While the old tough man days are over, we’ve still got to be really careful about what the reaction to concussion issues is doing to the brand of the game.
The NRL reduced the number of interchanges to make the game harder, to introduce more fatigue. But it’s not eight interchanges anymore.
Every club is getting extras. If one bloke comes off for an HIA then comes back on, that’s two interchanges; up to 10 per game. If two blokes come off, all of a sudden that’s 12 interchanges.
And again, no one’s breaking the rules. It’s all within what you’re allowed to do.
I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of concussion; you only get one brain. But I think we have to put things into perspective.
Gus Gould played through a brutal era in the 1970s and 80s and is one of the smartest men I know. Brad Fittler started his career in the late 80s, a hard time, and he’s come through OK after a long career.
Rugby league has been played by thousands and thousands of people for more than a century and while there may be lasting effects on some people, most former players just seem to be getting on with life.
Yet it all comes back to litigation; the fear of former players one day coming back and suing the game. That’s what this is all about and everyone knows it.
So if the NRL want to prevent that problem, while also getting rid of the blatant interchange rorting, take players off the field as soon as they’ve copped an obvious head knock. Simple.
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