Jury out on link between new NRL rules and spate of injuries – The Guardian

Posted: March 31, 2021 at 6:33 am

There is no way to know if new rules designed to promote entertainment via ball in play and fatigue in players are responsible for the spike of injuries after three rounds of the NRL season. But there is no way to tell if they are not, either.

Its too soon and the data is not conclusive. People are injured in rugby league and always have been. ARL Commission boss Peter Vlandys said: The injuries are on average with what they have been in previous years.

So perhaps it is an anomaly that concussions have gone up, that 21 players were forced off the field over the weekend, and that upwards of 50 players, several of them the games marquee entertainers, reside in the NRLs injury ward.

Rugby League Players Association boss Clint Newton does not assert that the rules have caused the increase in injuries. Nor is he saying they did not, either.

Were a code that in the last couple of years has changed rules to increase fatigue, Newton tells Guardian Australia. The players have had a tougher than usual pre-season as coaches look to adjust preparation to the rules. Clubs have done their best to adapt to the intensity of games. Theres a reduction in rest time and an increase in ball in active play.

And we know for a fact that under fatigue a player is more likely to make a mistake. Your decision making is challenged. That could be to put your head in the wrong spot in the tackle or to throw out an arm and collect an attacker high.

Newton is not decrying this, per se. He acknowledges that its part of sport to break down an opponent by tiring them out to affect their decision making. Newton argues, though, that players are operating at historically unmatched levels of intensity. He argues for balance.

We have to make sure were striking a balance between the welfare of the games greatest asset, the players, and the lionising of fatigue. It isnt the be-all-and-end-all of creating an outstanding game. We have to ask: what are we actually looking for? And is this utopia achievable?

It is not a binary argument but the trade-off appears to be about the entertainment value of the product, around which television can sell advertisements and cable subscriptions, and a sport which has become so much about attrition that its greatest asset the star actors in the entertainment are so beaten up they cannot act.

In the Raiders v Warriors game at GIO Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Ryan James and Sebastian Kris butted heads tackling the same man. Joe Tapine rolled his ankle jogging backwards. Curtis Scott banged up his rib. Cronulla had it worse with three men off the field with concussion Wade Graham, Briton Nikora and Will Kennedy - while Sione Katoa suffered a knee injury.

Were any of these because the new rules made them tired? Or has this been going on since 1908? Or both?

Ironically the game has never been as safe nor had a greater level of scrutiny and accountability. Not so long ago, rugby league was a savage game in which very few tackles didnt feature a swinging forearm into a jaw. As Matthew Johns said of his father Garys time as hardman of Cessnock Goannas: It was catch-and-kill.

Today, not so much. Indeed not at all. Yet rugby league, by dint of its very nature, must walk an incredibly fine line between peoples enjoyment of the games physicality and the resultant injury caused by the games physicality.

Newton says fans are acutely aware of the pressures on players, and they dont necessarily like it. If you turn the volume up too high and it has a negative impact on their team, its not what they want to see. No one wants to see Cronulla play 40 minutes without a reserve, especially given the rules weve had implemented over the last two years.

Its not about saying these new rules are definitely the problem. Theres no way to say that. But theres also no way to say they arent having an impact. Any data can be disputed. Theres no irrefutable data to support something of this nature. So anecdotal feedback from those at the coal face becomes important. Theyre going to know best.

The reality is, we have had a significant number of players express their concerns in the pre-season and now again following what had happened over the weekend. It is our role to voice their views and concerns while continuing to work with the NRL on addressing these matters.

There are 540 players in the RLPA. They dont agree on everything but and there is a consensus that they do not like being so tired they are in danger. And no longer can they rest for long in scrums.

What to do? The 18th man concussion substitute, which has been in play in NSW Cup, makes sense and was given approval in principle for NRL clubs after the ARLC met on Tuesday. From round five, an 18th player can be activated when three players from a team have failed HIA tests.

Vlandys said the commission had listened to players and clubs in making the move. Perhaps more important is how he and Abdo will react if the god-like stakeholder of TV begins to question why so many of the stars of its entertainment are too beaten up to entertain.

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Jury out on link between new NRL rules and spate of injuries - The Guardian

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