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Opinion

The NRL should have avoided this HIA Storm

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18th April, 2021
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The Storm may have dusted their fierce rivals the Roosters on Friday night, but yet again it’s not their talent with ball in hand that’s going to resonate across the week.

When Roosters utility Victor Radley got Cameron Munster across the jaw with a high arm in the 14th minute, the Storm premiership five-eighth went down and unless he’s a phenomenal actor was displaying clear signs of ‘category 2’ symptoms which means he should’ve gone for a head injury assessment (HIA).

As things played out, Munster appears to have been engaging in that classic Melbourne Storm shithousery and gamesmanship we all know, love and respect.

Given Radley has been charged with a grade two careless high tackle and is going to be outed for two games, surely the Roosters’ defence will be Munster was staging, muddying the waters even more?

That’s a separate issue to be decided at the NRL judiciary. The question to be asked is why were the Storm able to keep Munster on the field at all? Apart from care from the trainers, why were Melbourne involved in anything that happened immediately after the hit?

Before sending Radley to the pine, referee Adam Gee said “He’s hit him flush and he’s left the ground to do it, it’s on report and you’re in the bin”.

So why didn’t Munster get sent for medical attention? If the foul play is so bad the offender gets ten in the bin, how does the player who literally flew through the air from the impact of a head shot be on the sidelines for all of 27 seconds before being allowed to play on?

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The NRL have for years been spruiking their ‘independent injury spotters’ who sit in the bunker – where were they? What do they do on game day? Get coffee for Henry Perenara? Why weren’t they instantly in the ear of their bunker colleague or Adam Gee telling them Munster needed to go off for an HIA at that instant?

Or Harry Grant for that matter, after he was involved in a head clash with James Tedesco later on but stayed on the field? Or Ryan Papenhuyzen, who was allowed to remain on the field for two minutes before going off for an HIA which apparently could wait until the team were ready.

Under the letter of the NRL’s new (and frankly, ridiculous) 18th man substitute, Melbourne could have subbed in their spare player if Munster failed his HIA.

Why do I say ridiculous? Because also under the latter of that law, Parramatta’s Ryan Matterson would not have been eligible to be replaced by the 18th man because Storm forward Felise Kafusi was not binned or sent off after knocking him cold with an elbow in Round 2. Matterson hasn’t played since – he’s still suffering concussion after effects, four weeks later.

Canterbury’s Jack Hetherington was rightly told to take a seat for a tackle similar to Radley’s on North Queensland’s Valentine Holmes on Sunday. It was encouraging to see more action on high contact, whether it’s accidental (as Hetherington’s coach Trent Barrett claimed) or not.

Jack Hetherington of the Bulldogs

Jack Hetherington of the Bulldogs walks from the field after being sent off (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

For what it’s worth, Holmes also stayed on the field and seemed to have no ill effects at the time, even setting up a try two minutes later. Why wasn’t he sent for an HIA after being the victim of foul play so grievous it was punished by a send off?

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I am all for punting players who hit their opponent high. Ten minutes or off, doesn’t matter. I very much support the benching of Radley and Hetherington.

But it was odd to see high shots by South Sydney fullback Latrell Mitchell and Penrith centre Paul Momirovski go unpunished on the field, but now be deemed so bad the players have been suspended for three and two games respectively.

If the actions are that foul, where is the sin bin or send off for them? Momirovski’s in particular was pretty ordinary.

Latrell Mitchell copped ten in the bin for brushing Daly Cherry-Evans’ jersey in Round 2, and got nothing at all for giving Tigers winger David Nofoluma a faceful of his forearm on Saturday.

Funny game, rugby league.

The NRL have said their Chief Medical Officer is ‘investigating’ Melbourne’s handling of the Papenhuyzen, Munster and Grant incidents and there’s an expectation they’ll receive a fine similar to the $20,000 the Bulldogs copped a couple of weeks ago for leaving an obviously affected Lachlan Lewis on the field after he was hit high.

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This whole issue is just yet another example of the NRL’s sloppy approach to the single challenge that poses a long term existential threat to the code. Season 2021 has shown beyond doubt the NRL has no idea what it’s doing when it comes to the treatment, punishment and management of head shots and concussion and right now, they’re a mile behind other sports.

If the first response to new rules or policies is ‘they’ll just get rorted by clubs’, take the bloody decision out of the club’s hands. Remove all the doubt. Take responsibility and take real action instead of yet again playing games with the health of your players.