Rugby league accidents’ not an acceptable approach to concussion prevention

Kerevi was miffed, too, jokingly suggesting he might join the NRL if rugby was to continue cracking down on any whiff of head high contact.


One month earlier, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves walked free from the NRL judiciary after high shot to the head of Liam Knight was deemed a “rugby league accident”.

Raftery’s answer to the Australian outcries is simple.

World Rugby believe the only way to stop the trend of rising concussions is to treat any semblance of high contact with heavy hands.

Players are now learning to steer clear of the neck and head and while Raftery made the point that the NRL may not yet have the data World Rugby collated before implementing this approach, he believes administrators have a responsibility to push for zero tolerance on high contact.

“I don’t think you can just rely on treatment,” said Raftery, a former Cronulla Sharks star and long-time Dragons club doctor.

“It’s different across different sports but we have introduced a prevention program which is increasing the sanctioning for high tackles and that has caused a considerable change in the game.

“Until other sports start to look at that, then I don’t see what or why anything would change.

“There is a difference between treating the injury – which is what other sports are doing – and preventing the injuries.

“Sports have moved to treat it but we have specifically moved on to prevention following some research we did over 1500 games.”

Raftery sympathised with players such as Hodge, Kerevi and rugby fans who feel the game has “gone soft” but did not apologise for the zero tolerance approach.

Martin Raftery is World Rugby’s chief medical officer.Credit:Louise Kennerley

“What we believe has happened is the increased sanctions have improved the consistency of suspensions for high tackles,” he said.

“It has definitely become harder and it has definitely become harsher on the players but it’s the governing body’s responsibility to protect the player.

“It’s is my responsibility to improve player welfare and if a bloke gets hit to the head, we need a zero tolerance to that behaviour.

“Changing behaviour in a sport is hard and that’s why harsh sanctions were introduced.”

Raftery made the point that both codes have changed dramatically in the past decade and that safety protocols had to move with the times.

“There’s no doubt that the game has changed – I remember being in a game where there were punches thrown after the toss of the coin and before the first whistle.

“But they were the old days. You go back and look 10 years ago even – it’s a different game to what it is today.

“When do you stop saying that’s a rugby league accident?

“When I hear some of the (rugby league) commentators it doesn’t seem as though they want a behavioural change.”

James Graham has been one of the faces of the concussion debate.

James Graham has been one of the faces of the concussion debate.Credit:AAP

New ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys insists the NRL’s chief governing body has committed “significant” cash to concussion treatment.

“It’s a significant part of our budget. There’s $2 million going into concussion at the moment, in having people on sidelines and in the bunker, medical research and having doctors,” V’landys said at his first press conference in the job.

“It’s not hiding from it. It’s a problem and we have to face it front on.

“Because it’s a deterrent, there’s no doubt about that, with participation.

“We have to do everything we can to make our sport safe.”

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