In the 2020 National Rugby League season, there has been numerous players struck down with career-threatening knee injuries.
Some are minor and can be rehabilitated, however numerous have required surgery and have been season-ending.
I have looked at playing surfaces, fitness levels due to the pandemic and even the position of players yet I can’t find a strong link to stop the disturbing trend.
How are knee injuries mitigated, then? Unfortunately, there is no proven method of preventing injuries, but they can be mitigated by maintaining proper fitness levels, learning the correct techniques for jumping and landing, improving balance and footwork as well as strengthening the leg muscles.
Just to keep the discussion to the facts, the knee joint is made up of bones, cartilage, ligaments and tendons. The femur (thigh bone) is at the top of the knee joint. The tibia (shinbone) is below the knee joint. The patella (knee cap) covers the union of the femur and tibia. The cartilage is the tissue that cushions the bones from each other. The tendons connect the muscles to the bones.
To keep the knee stable a set of four ligaments secure the joint like a hinge on a door. Either side of the knee is the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) and the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). They both work to regulate and stabilise the left-to-right shift of the joint movement.
The further two ligaments, the Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) and the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), stabilise the knee’s backward and forward movement. The ACL runs diagonally down the front of the knee, providing critical stability.
The ACL connects the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia). Minor sprains or tears can heal with specific rehabilitation however full tears require surgery.
A full ACL tear is a terrible injury that is predominantly season-ending for players and the psychological impact is devastating. Typically, recovery time is between six to nine months. The injury can occur from quickly changing direction while in motion or improperly landing after jumping or blunt force trauma.
The worst knee injury in the NRL is the ACL sprain or tear. Players often speak of hearing a pop followed by excruciating pain, swelling and instability. ACL injuries are graded from one to three. A grade one is a mild sprain while a grade three refers to a complete tear.
Mild tears, such as a grade one, typically require pain management, anti-inflammatory medication, rest and in many cases a brace as well as the use of crutches or a wheelchair for mobility. Once the injury settles rehabilitation can begin.
A complete ACL rupture is very common in rugby league athletes and requires surgery. For some players the risk of re-injury is inherent.
As at Round 13 all 16 teams’ knee injuries and player return dates have been detailed. They are as follows.
Kurt Capewell – Round 17
Jesse Bromwich – Round 13
Nothing to report
Victor Radley – season ending
Sam Verrills – season ending
Billy Smith – season ending
Angus Crichton – Round 14-15
Andre Niko – season ending
Josh Hodgson – season ending
Daniel Saifiti – Round 14-15
Jayden Brailey – season ending
Cameron King – season ending
Scott Sorensen – Round 13.
Manly Sea Eagles
Albert Hopoate – indefinite, to be advised
Jacob Liddle – Round 14-15
Harry Grant – to be advised
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Tom Amone – season ending
Braidon Burns – season ending
St George Illawarra Dragons
North Queensland Cowboys
Scott Drinkwater – Round 15
Tom Opacic – Round 13
John Asiata – indefinite, to be advised
New Zealand Warriors
Nathaniel Roache – Round 13-14
Taane Milne – season ending
Jackson Frei – season ending
Bunty Afoa – season ending
Gold Coast Titans
Mitch Rein – Round 13
Young Tonumaipea – indefinite, to be advised and
Ryan James – season ending
Jack Bird – season ending
Jesse Arthars – Round 13,
David Fifita – Round 13,
Matt Lodge – Round 13-14,
Alex Glenn – Round 15-17,
Sean O’Sullivan – indefinite, to be advised
Keenan Palasia – indefinite, to be advised
Last century a serious knee injury was career-ending for many professional athletes.
With modern technology, surgical improvements and clinical rehabilitation it has accelerated recovery rates.
In receipt times, new rules have been introduced to protect players from injuries.
The cannonball tackle has been outlawed as has tackling a player in mid-air while contesting a high ball.
Thankfully advances in medicine and injury recovery have our NRL stars back on the park in the shortest time possible while maintaining player welfare as the highest priority.