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‘Not seen anything like it’: Staggering image reignites uncomfortable NRL debate

Round three of the NRL has been dominated by an alarming number of injuries and concussions which have renewed calls for the league to consider bringing in an 18th man medical substitute.
Round three of the NRL has been dominated by an alarming number of injuries and concussions which have renewed calls for the league to consider bringing in an 18th man medical substitute.

The AFL have introduced injury replacements this year, sparking dialogue on whether rugby league should follow suit.

New rules brought into the NRL have increased the speed of the game, prompting immediate reactions from Parramatta players during a trial game against Penrith.

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Round 3
Sharks help Moses after scary head knock

Sharks help Moses after scary head knock

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Cronulla were left without a player on the bench, with Fox League’s Jake Duke reporting Sharks players told him post-game they had “not seen anything like it.”

He added that the Sharks did not make one official interchange for a reason other than injury or concussion, describing it as “staggering.”

Fox League’s Andrew Voss said there is a need for the NRL to ramp up discussions on a possible medical sub.

“This is going to open discussions,” he said in commentary.

“Is it time for an 18th man? If you have at least two HIAs do you keep an 18th man on the bench? They’ve now had three players succumb to HIAs here, Canberra had a couple earlier today.

“We talk about player welfare, Canberra had a bloke with a fractured rib in Curtis Scott. If someone [from Cronulla] is injured in this half they’ll have to play on [with 12]. We talk about welfare, that is the intention of the HIA.”

The possibility of a medical substitute has been met with varying reactions from both players and coaches within the rugby league world.

Sharks forward Wade Graham, who did not finish Saturday’s game after failing a HIA test, told reporters earlier this month it could have a place in the game if addressing injuries or concussions caused by foul play.

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Ricky fumes as ref misses forward pass

Ricky fumes as ref misses forward pass

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“We could look at it if it was foul play from the other team,” he said.

But he warned against any change that would dramatically alter the “toughness of the game.”

“Rugby league is a collision sport, a war of attrition, it is part of the fabric of the game,” he added.

“To battle through pain and keep on going. That is the game I knew and learnt to play in and you don’t want to see that taken out of the game.

“But I’m always willing to look at ideas and have conversations... but I think the toughness in the game is something we should admire not take away.”

He also added that the NRL would need to address whether it could be manipulated, asking: “How do you police people taking advantage of the extra sub on the bench?”

Roosters coach Trent Robinson though revealed he had been giving the issue plenty of thought after Ryan Matterson and Jake Friend were sidelined by head knocks in the opening rounds of the season.

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“It’s an interesting one,” he told reporters last week.

“What the NRL has done this year is bring in the independent doctor within the 11-day period. They’ve made a small step to taking it out of the hands of the wins and losses of the clubs, to say we need to do a bit more.

“People want the attrition of our game and the hardness of our game, and we also need to protect the players. That’s where there is a gap in between the two – if you can’t finish the game, even if its not foul play, that’s like any other injury you’ve got to get on with it.

“On the other side, we have moved into a space in the last few years where it’s a real grey area. People don’t know what a head injury does like they do a hamstring injury – how do we protect the game and its players?

“That was an example where we sit there and we go, would that have helped? That’s up to the NRL to continue to look at.”

Cooper Cronk, Benji Marshall and Mick Ennis questioned the link between the spate of injuries in Round 3 and whether it is an anomaly or a sign that the game needs to take action.

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If there has ever been evidence a concussion sub (18th man) is needed, today is that day. Both Sharks & Raiders left with bare bone benches after multiple concussions (+ other injuries). Injuries are part of the fabric of the game but this would be a great move for player safety

— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) March 27, 2021

“It is just fatigue,” Marshall said on Fox League.

“When you are fatigued your brain still thinks it can do the same things as when you are not tired.

“When you throw your hand out to make a tackle and you do your pec or a shoulder or a hamstring. So fatigue is going to be a big factor in that.

“But in terms of the injuries you can’t just say that something is making it happen this round. To me it is just an unlucky round.”

“Out of the 20 injuries, seven of them were concussions, so that is not going to change whether you have a faster game or a slower game,” Cronk said.

“But you wonder though if the fatigue in the game is playing a role as Benji said,” Ennis interjected.

“You wonder if guys are making decisions under fatigue and putting their head in positions that they wouldn’t.”

“Yes that’s true, but how many times have we had a bench cleared out?” Cronk countered.

“Not a lot.

“What the NRL need to do is crunch the numbers and how many times teams are left with maybe two bench players because there is always going to be one injury in most games.

Broncos batter hapless Bulldogs

Broncos batter hapless Bulldogs

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“When you go down to two and they can’t come back, but the NRL need to crunch the numbers because today for me was in isolation and we haven’t had this many crazy injuries before.

“So we shouldn’t react harshly to one day.”

However Ennis believes the NRL need to do their due diligence on the possible link between rule changes and the increasing NRL casualty ward.

“I think it is going to take a weekend like we have had to raise the concerns of what we saw in that 40 minutes,” Ennis said.

“We don’t just have a weekend to get through. John Morris has a whole season to get through. They have to play the Cowboys next week.

“The Raiders are decimated and have to play next week. I know we have squads, but we have implemented all these rules and we need to have a look at it and see if it is because of all these rule changes.

“Players have had to play a full 40 minutes and put their bodies through things they haven’t had to do before. It could be dangerous for the players.”

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