It seems there isn’t a week that goes by in the NRL season that’s devoid of something guaranteed to get us riled up.
But this week it isn’t the usual spiel about some useless player or the latest referring blunder.
It’s about the backwards attitude the sport still has when it comes to concussions, and it was the events of Friday night’s Roosters versus Bulldogs firefight that have pushed this fan to the edge.
The first incident occurred in the opening half, when Canterbury fullback Sam Perrett stayed grounded after receiving a high shot. The careless defensive play warranted a penalty, certainly, but as Perrett was being examined by a trainer – who seemed adamant that he be taken off the field for the required concussion test – Perrett refused to head to the sheds immediately until he was finally forced to take his leave some time later.
The fact that play was allowed to continue without official medical clearance is nothing short of a joke. A concussion isn’t exactly the kind of injury you can ‘walk off’, and regardless of how Perrett claimed to have felt at the time, there is no conceivable end to the hounding the NRL would be copping come Monday morning if he was allowed to play on and came away with a far more severe injury as a result.
A far more publicised moment came later, as the game’s tension rapidly ascended towards its breaking point. Midway through an attacking set, Michael Ennis ate a swinging arm and, while he too was eventually forced from the field, what immediately followed the play was absurd on the part of both teams.
As Sam Moa crouched over his body demanding that Ennis get up, Anthony Minichiello needlessly pushed the ballplayer’s head into the turf before a mini-melee was stirred, with Rooster and Bulldog cleats coming cringe-inducingly close to trodding all over Ennis’ still motionless noggin.
Whether the hit justified Ennis’ reaction – or lack thereof – or whether it was a classic case of milking is irrelevant. At the time, both teams temporarily sacrificed the wellbeing of a fellow player in favour of squaring up the odds.
As the situation was diffused and the Roosters slowly started to pull away, one would have hoped that any attacks on the head were no longer in the minds of the players, until a late-game WWF-style high knee by Dogs hardman David Klemmor came within inches of putting Frank-Paul Nu’uausala out of commission, confirming that no-one had learnt their lesson after all.
So, the question, as always, is who’s to blame?
Easy answer: the players. Right answer: everyone but.
It’s impossible to lay the blame squarely on the players for refusing treatment right in the middle of an adrenaline rush. Do you fine the club itself for not insisting that one of its employees obey league rules? Do you send that player to the judiciary, scaring him into thinking that refusing one 15-minute test could result in a two-week ban? Neither option is perfect. In fact, you could argue neither option is all that fair, but some initiative has to be taken urgently.
In a time of the most advanced sports medicine we’ve ever seen, our game is at a serious crossroads.
In the United States, former NFL players have committed some terrible, horrific acts directly related to the brain damage they endured during their careers, which has prompted a very gradual culture change across all levels of the sport.
Forget the traditionalists. This is not about ‘being tough’ or ‘coming through for your mates’. It’s about not waking up in 10 years and making those post-match interviewees look like Oxford scholars by comparison every time you try to string a sentence together.