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Opinion

The rugby league casualty ward is filling up at fast

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Roar Guru
15th March, 2022
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The 2021 season was one of the worst ever for injuries, and towards the end of the year there were around 90 players unavailable through injury.

To put that into perspective, 90 injured players is the equivalent of the 30-man playing rosters of three clubs.

There wasn’t a single club that wasn’t seriously impacted by injuries at some stage of the season.

So here we are in March 2022, and after just a couple of weeks of trials and one full round of the competition, the casualty list is already growing rapidly, with some 50 players unavailable this week.

Many of these players will only miss one or two weeks, but there are also a significant number who will be out for an extended period, and some won’t be back at all this year.

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Players like the Knights’ Bailey Hodgson, Hymel Hunt and Jayden Brailey; Moses Leota from Penrith; Jamal Fogarty from Canberra; Maika Sivo and Sean Russell from Parramatta; and the Warriors’ pair of Tohu Harris and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will all be out for extended periods, and may struggle for both form and match fitness when they return.

Jayden Brailey of the Knights passes the ball

Jayden Brailey (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Far worse news though for Harley Smith-Shields (Raiders), Shallin Fuller (Titans), Hayze Dunster (Eels), Shawn Blore (Tigers), and both Christian Welch and George Jennings from the Storm, as their seasons are already over.

Just to illustrate the impact injuries are already having on the competition, here’s a team made up of players unavailable this week through injury:

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1. Blake Taaffe (Rabbitohs)
2. Maika Sivo (Eels)
3. Adam Doueihi (Tigers)
4. Joseph Suaalii (Roosters)
5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Warriors)
6. Shaun Johnson (Warriors)
7. Jamal Fogarty (Raiders)
8. Christian Welch (Storm)
9. Josh Hodgson (Raiders)
10. Moses Leota (Panthers)
11. Tohu Harris (Warriors)
12. Wade Graham (Sharks)
13. Brandon Smith (Storm)
14. Jayden Brailey (Knights)
15. Josh Schuster (Sea Eagles)
16. Shawn Blore (Tigers)
17. Liam Knight (Rabbitohs)

That’s quite a handy squad, and includes many players who are key components of their club’s 2022 premiership aspirations.

The current injury rate seems unsustainable. The increased speed of the game, the focus on the correct treatment of concussed players, COVID-19, and the force of the impact as bigger bodies collide are all contributors to the increase in injuries and unavailability, and these factors now appear to be permanent features of the game.

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It raises the question whether the current squad size of 30 players is sufficient to get through a season, and we saw many games last year where a team’s bench was severely depleted as a result of injury – the Dogs had to call on their 18th man in their Round 1 clash with the Cowboys.

Perhaps it’s time to expand the bench to seven players, either with or without changing the total number of available interchanges? Perhaps it’s time to limit the number of players in the tackle? Is a 30-man squad big enough these days?

We all love watching a faster game played by big, powerful players, and who doesn’t enjoy watching the heavy contact, but injury rates like these are becoming a problem. It will be interesting to monitor this position across the rest of the season.

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