The 18th man debate has resurfaced this weekend following a round which saw a number of clubs receive fines for breaching the NRL’s concussion rule.
Five players from three separate clubs sustained head knocks at the weekend but none were brought from the field.
Brendan Elliot, who was hit like a freight train by Hymel Hunt, was visibly disoriented and wouldn’t have been able to remember where he parked his car. But after assessment from the club doctors on the field, he was deemed well enough to play on.
There were three cases in the Titans game with Parramatta on Friday night and the club has had to pay a hefty $150,000 fine for failing to give Elgey, Greenwood and Simpkins the proper attention following knocks to the head.
To cap off an ugly round for the NRL, Josh Dugan was also allowed to continue playing following a stray elbow from teammate Russell Packer, despite being out for the count. The Dragons were later fined $100,000.
Imagine what parents are thinking when they sit down with their children to watch a game and see players stumbling around like a drunken tourist on Surfers Paradise Boulevard after receiving a heavy hit to the head.
Do they really want them playing Rugby League in the knowledge that they might be left permanently damaged by concussion because of its questionable management?
The NRL has tiptoed around concussion in recent years, but after a weekend which saw a number of confronting incidents take place, and in light of recent events involving James McManus taking out legal action against his own club, they needed to step up and draw a line in the sand.
There are already enough problems with the game. Concussion doesn’t need to become bigger than it already is.
But would this issue be as prevalent if coaches were able to call on an eighteenth man in the event that their bench was to be decimated by injury?
Knight’s coach Nathan Brown made his opinions well known following the game on the weekend and it appears his views are echoed by a number of the coaches across the competition.
“The bigger problem is injured people being forced to stay on the field because we don’t have any players left,” he said.
“I’ll leave that with the referees and judiciary….But if Brendan Elliott has to leave the field because of that, and then the player does get suspended, who gets the benefit out of it”.
Herein lies the problem. Brown couldn’t have summed it up any better.
Not only would coaches and doctors be less inclined to leave a concussed player on if they had an eighteenth man at their disposal, the opposition player would also be sent off, putting them at an immediate disadvantage.
Hymel Hunt’s swinging arm on Brendan Elliott would’ve knocked out Mohammad Ali and should have resulted in a stint in the sin-bin.
He has since been fined by the match review committee but the penalty needed to have ramifications for the South Sydney Rabbitohs on the field.
Another element of the concussion rule that the NRL must address is the use of club doctors in determining whether a player should or shouldn’t leave the ground for a HIA.
It was obvious on the weekend that the doctors were allowing players who thought they were on the surface of the moon to continue playing because they were short on troops.
This is a competition-wide issue and no one club can be excused.
But the decision to pull a player or let them play on should not lie with club doctors. Particularly when reputations and careers are at stake.
Josh Dugan is one of the most highly rated players in the competition and the Dragons would have been left without a key player if he was brought from the ground during the early stages of Sunday’s derby against the Sharks.
The doctor assessed him, went through the mandatory on field questions, and deemed that a HIA was not necessary even though he was left seeing stars.
Had Dugan not been the influential attacking weapon he is, would the doctors have treated him the same way?
It’s a question that extends to other clubs but it is ultimately the NRL who must ensure this is put to an end and taken out of the hands of club doctors.
Giving out fines like speeding tickets for breaching protocol is a start, but it is not a strong enough deterrent. Clubs will break the rules in a heartbeat if a small financial penalty is all they have to worry about.