Rugby League

Huge increase in players failing to return after HIAs as NRL grapples with concussions

There has been a significant increase in the number of players who have not returned to the field after undergoing a head-injury assessment this season in an indication NRL clubs are taking a more conservative approach to concussion management.

The NRL will review the handling of a series of head knocks so far in round six, including incidents involving Nathan Cleary, Cameron Munster, Harry Grant and Ryan Papenhuyzen. The four marquee men played key roles in their respective sides’ victories despite being involved in contentious collisions.



As debate continues about whether they should have been removed from the fray, figures for the opening five rounds show that the number of players coming from the field for HIAs is less than the corresponding period last year. So far 50 players have come off for HIAs in 2021, compared to 57 last season.

However, this year 30 players (60 per cent) failed to return to field, as opposed to 14 (25 per cent) last year.

While doctors are expected to treat each case on its merits, the statistics appear to demonstrate a more cautious approach when assessing players.

Despite this, several incidents from the weekend remain under scrutiny.

Roosters utility Victor Radley is facing a ban of up to three games after he attracted a grade-two careless high tackle on Cameron Munster. Grant also appeared to be dazed after a collision with James Tedesco, but neither Storm star was asked to undergo a HIA. Grant came up with the winning play minutes after being cleared to continue.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo confirmed both incidents would be reviewed.

“I think the NRL need to come out and define exactly what the protocols are after a concussion,” Cooper Cronk told Fox League on Saturday.

“Because at the moment, it’s very grey and it’s up to the medical experts at each club to determine. At the moment, some come off, some don’t.

“You saw Munster grab a [substitute] card and go straight back in within 30 to 45 seconds.

“The NRL really need to put in a line-in-the sand moment to say, ‘Listen, concussions, this is what is expected, when it’s 15 minutes out everyone gets tested and comes back on’.

“But they need to work that out.”

Cleary got his head into an awkward position when tackling Brisbane’s Jordan Riki, before going on to seal the match for the Panthers with two clutch plays.

The issue of concussion diagnosis and management is a timely one for rugby league. The NRL has introduced a concussion substitute at a time when Roosters skipper Jake Friend has retired after suffering concussions throughout his career, Parramatta’s Ryan Matterson was again a late scratching against Canberra after suffering a heavy knock in round two and the Bulldogs are set to appeal against the severity of a $20,000 fine for the handling of Lachlan Lewis’ head injury assessment on Good Friday.

The NRL has opted not to publicise when teams have been fined for not following concussion protocols in recent years. However, the transparency surrounding Canterbury’s penalty suggests there will be more information provided should it be in the public interest.

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