Gold Coast Titans Vs Newcastle Knights, 18th man rule, concussion, doctors, HIA, Tyson Frizell, Phillip Sami


The NRL’s 18th man rule has already come under fire with two incidents showing the gaps in the new rule.

Following a high tackle in the match between the Panthers and the Raiders that saw Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad ruled out of the game in the 21st minute, it showed that there would be a high bar for an 18th man to make it onto the field.

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Concussions have wreaked havoc this season with club left with next to no one on the bench in crazy scenes that saw the rule brought into the competition.

The Raiders were left with one fit player on the bench in their loss to the Warriors on Saturday while the Sharks played the entire second half with just 13 men in their 28-4 defeat to Parramatta.

Images of empty chairs on both teams’ benches exposed the alarming rate of injuries and particularly concussions, which some pundits are speculating may be related to new rules introduced this season that have sped the game up even further.

Currently, there have to be three players fail HIA tests for the 18th man to be triggered, or be the victim of foul play that sees the offender sin binned or sent off.

The three failed HIAs has been incredibly rare in the NRL.

The latest came in the Titans’ 42-16 thrashing of the Newcastle Knights.

It was just six minutes into the match when Titans winger Phillip Sami ran into the shoulder of Knights forward Tyson Frizell.

Running the ball back after a kick, Sami took on the NSW forward who crept up a bit high with his hit but far from being a sin bin offence.

Sami had wobbly legs immediately and was done for the day.

He had to be held up by his teammates and immediately, Fox League commentators thought Sami was KO’ed.

“Sami in a bit of trouble here, oh no, that’s the end of Phillip Sami, at least for 15 minutes,” Dan Ginnane said.

“Frizell came up out of the line trying to inspire his teammates,” Steve Roach said. “That might have been a little bit of the shoulder on the chin there, it wasn’t a swinging arm or anything.”

Ginnane put it in context: “This is important because an 18th man could be brought in for foul play. No problem there?”

Roach added: “I don’t think I saw anything foul in that. I know you’re not allowed to hit the head with any part of the body but I think that was a nice clean flush tackle.”

But Klein put Frizell on report surprising the commentators

It does pose the question of how do the NRL ensure the rule can be consistently used on the run when an incident may not be deemed bad enough for a sin bin or send off but ultimately ends up ruling out a player through injury.

There was almost another example as the game went on with the Knights’ Sauaso Sue running the first hit up of the second half straight into the Titans’ Jaimin Jolliffe and was left with his head split open.

While he stayed on the field, referee Ashley Klein quickly sent him for a HIA after his head was wrapped up.

“A delayed response here with the doctor having a look at the vision and taking a few minutes to decide that this needed assessment. It’s a flaw in the system but they’ll get him off and check,” commentator Dan Ginnane said.

While there was nothing illegal in the shot, when the discussion is about protecting players, perhaps the 18th man, or a new plan, needs to come into effect.

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The 18th man rule does nothing to reduce risk of life-altering head injuries


In that context, I don’t know what to make of this 18th-man rule in the NRL. Its introduction seems to be an intended solution to a different problem.

Provisions for an 18th man do precisely nothing to reduce or ameliorate the serious risks of life-altering head injuries in a high-impact collision sport.

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A nominated 18th man can now take the field when three of the 17-man squad fail a head injury assessment or when a player suffers a match-ending injury caused by foul play and the perpetrator is sin-binned or sent off. This is not about managing head injuries. Rather, these rules are about managing the spectacle through maintaining the competitive balance and uncertainty in the result of the match, notwithstanding that three players on a team have failed HIAs – or where a player might have been clobbered into the middle of the next decade a la Mark Bugden on Steve Rogers, circa 1985.

The new rule isn’t even original: NSW Rugby League introduced a similar one more than a year ago, without imposing any “three HIAs” threshold before allowing a concussion substitute onto the pitch.

You could count on one hand, and still leave more than one finger dangling, how many times three or more players in a 17-man NRL squad have failed an HIA in the same match over the past decade; when the NRL started taking head injury management seriously. Match-ending injuries, as a result of foul play, are also uncommon.

None of these new regulations contribute towards effectively protecting players from the incidence of concussions, let alone the ravages caused by the repeated ricocheting of brains inside skulls.

That isn’t to say there’s an absence of proper purpose in the “18th man” regulations. Limiting a team’s disadvantage from a high incidence of injuries, or illegal play, is worthwhile. Safeguarding teams’ competitive interests is important; but nobody should pretend these developments have anything to do with player safety.

It’s inevitable that rugby league players – and AFL players, and NFL players and rugby union players – will continue to sustain concussions and their effects. Jake Friend retired this week having suffered 20 documented concussions in his career. He won’t be the last. In that context, it doesn’t make a sliver of sense for a $500 million-a-year behemoth of a sporting code to be lax about concussion protocols to the extent that all responsibility and liability is heaped onto clubs.

The NFL has up to 30 people present at every match, whose sole responsibilities are to spot and manage concussions.

Many of you armchair doctors-without-medical-degrees (and many of you, who are qualified to use the MBBS post-nominals) decry the noble sport of boxing and its continued existence. Yet even at a low-level boxing match in NSW, it’s required by law that a medical doctor must be present ringside for the safety of the combatants (I’m the chairman of the NSW Combat Sports Authority, so I should know).

How can the NRL justify not mandating independent, NRL-appointed doctors to attend every match as the sole arbiter of when a player must leave the field for a head injury assessment? Why is this independent doctor not also the sole decider of whether players can return to the field? And if a player can’t return because of an on-field concussion, why isn’t it the sole decision of that NRL-appointed, independent medical practitioner as to what happens next?

The NRL has this bizarre 11-day stand-down rule for concussed players, which can be truncated depending on the assessment of the player’s club doctor. Why?

Cross-reference the NRL system and its weaknesses with the structures imposed by the New York State Athletic Commission, which controls boxing in that pocket of America. Under the NYSAC’s rules, if a boxer suffers a head trauma (even if they are victorious) the attending physician can impose a ban on the fighter for a fixed period of not less than 30 days, and until he or she produces a neurological clearance in a format approved by the commission.

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Furthermore, the NYSAC’s rules empower the physician as the exclusive deciding mind as to the imposition of further head trauma-consequent suspensions considered necessary.

If those who control the NRL were absolutely fair dinkum about protecting players from the long-term, irreversible damages of repeated brain traumas, then similar safeguards could be imposed right now. A model based on the NFL’s monitoring, and the NYSAC’s empowerment of independent and neutral doctors, would be a good start.

Professional rugby league players voluntarily assume the risks in one of the toughest sports there is. One should never make the argument that players should be anything less than free to choose to assume those risks. But the role of the sport’s administrators then becomes one of implementing the safest systems possible. The NRL’s “18th man” rules aren’t designed for any such purpose.

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NRL coaches say 18th man concussion rule doesn’t add up

NRL coaches have labelled the game’s new 18th man concussion rule useless in its current form.

On Tuesday, the Australian Rugby League Commission gave approval for an 18th man to be used by clubs, but only when three players from a team have failed HIA tests. The substitute must also be considered an “emerging player”. The rule will be in place from round five.

Warriors coach Nathan Brown slammed the new rule due to the rarity in which three HIAs are failed by one team, saying he had never been involved in a game where it had occurred.

Although three Sharks players failed HIA tests during Saturday’s clash against the Eels, the NRL have rarely found themselves in the situation. Saturday’s clash marked the first time three players had gone down to head knock since round seven of the 2016 season.

“I don’t get that rule,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter who’s on your bench because they won’t be going out there anyway. So I’m not sure why they did it in the end.”

Brown believes the NRL should adjust the new ruling to allow the activation of the 18th man when just two failed HIAs occur. He pointed to Raiders player Curtis Scott who played on with a broken rib after two failed HIAs within the squad.

“I would have thought two head knocks would have been fair, that’s quite common and we’ve seen it a couple of times,” he said. “Canberra on the weekend had two head knocks plus lost a bloke with an injury and they had to leave a player out there with a floating rib.

“What you’re doing is forcing other players to stay on the field injured.”

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary likened the rule to “flood insurance” due to the rare possibility of three failed HIAs occurring.

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lower level rule change no laughing matter for Damien Hardwick


“Ideally you’d like your players in both grades to be playing to the same set of rules. I know that there’s an opportunity perhaps to play and model some different things in the game at VFL level,” Clarkson said.

“There’s one particular rule where at a stoppage you’ve got to have a player from each team in each respective goal square. I can understand if players are showing no intent but sometimes they’re 60 or 70 metres away from the goal square and the whistle blows, and they’re trying to get back there and they’re just slow in doing so in terms of the time that they’re given, and the umpire pays a free kick to the opposition because they didn’t reset quickly enough. I think there just needs to be a little bit of tolerance.

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“We don’t train that way during the week, we don’t set anything up to do with our training during the week in that manner, so I’d hope that they’d look at that and try to come up with a compromise that makes it more understanding of the amount of AFL players that you’ve got in your system playing VFL footy.”

Hardwick said the Tigers would regain Nick Vlastuin (knee) against Sydney next Saturday, while Bachar Houli (calf) will be strongly considered.

Clarkson said Will Day (ankle) will be scanned after being substituted out of the game on Sunday. No. 6 draft pick Denver Grainger-Barras will also be assessed after going down in the VFL practice match earlier on Sunday.

“He’s got a bit of a knee, but once again we’ll get it scanned. They think structurally it’s sound. I think he just landed awkwardly and hyper-extended it a little bit,” Clarkson said.

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Damien Hardwick, VFL rule changes, Richmond Tigers vs Hawthorn


Richmond Tigers coach Damien Hardwick has blasted the controversial new anti-density rules currently being trialled in the VFL practice matches.

With the aim of opening up play and reducing congestion, the AFL recently introduced anti-density rules in the East Coast state league.

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At boundary throw-ins and kick-ins, three players from each team are required to be inside each 50m arc, including one in the goalsquare.

The rule inevitably forces dozens of resets and creates additional free kicks, with players struggling to adjust to the changes.

Speaking to reporters after Richmond’s 11.12 (78) to 7.7 (49) victory over Hawthorn on Sunday afternoon, Hardwick offered a passionate response when asked about younger players in the squad, many of who compete in the VFL.

“The challenge for us is just fitting them in and giving them opportunities to play, because the game unfortunately at that lower level, with the rules, is very, very challenging,” Hardwick said.

“It’s hard to prepare them for AFL level. It’s so non-AFL like what we’re seeing at the moment.

“So that’s going to be an enormous challenge for our players — they’re going to have to do top-up running, because it’s nothing like AFL at the minute.

“The free kicks today at VFL level were laughable.

“We’ve expressed our concerns (to the AFL) so it’s over to them, really. We’re trying to prepare players for the very best competition in the world, I think. We probably need to have a lower league with probably the same rules, I would think.

“I think sanity would prevail at some stage, would it not?”

Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson also called for players in both grades to be playing under the same set of rules.

“I can understand if players are showing no intent, but sometimes they’re 60 or 70 metres away from the goalsquare and the whistle blows, and they’re trying to get back there and they’re just slow in doing so in terms of the time that they’re given, and the umpire pays a free kick to the opposition because they didn’t reset quickly enough. I think there just needs to be a little bit of tolerance,” Clarkson said.

“We don’t train that way during the week, we don’t set anything up to do with our training during the week in that manner, so I’d hope that they’d look at that and try to come up with a compromise that makes it more understanding of the amount of AFL players that you’ve got in your system playing VFL footy.”

North Melbourne coach David Noble echoed Hardwick’s remarks earlier in the week.

“It takes too long to reset and it changes the roles that we‘re looking for our players to play coming into the AFL,” Noble said on Thursday.

“I was involved in the trial when the AFL came up a couple of years ago to Brisbane when we had three in the front half. That actually made sense.

“But pushing one back to the goalsquare from a D50 (stoppage) just didn’t make sense for me.

“I understand trying to ‘de-densify’ numbers, I’m not against that, but the length that we actually had to take … it needs a lot more discussion before it gets put in.”

The VFL’s home and away season commences on Friday, April 16th.

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