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NRL Mailbox: The truth about injuries

NRL Wed, Mar 30, 2011 - 3:45 PM

The official answers from the NRL on the game's most pressing questions. This week: the rules concerning interchanging an injured player.

There has been a lot of talk about injuries, interchanges and concussions recently.

Firstly, while any injury is bad and we never want to see a single player get hurt, it is worth noting that the actual injury rate has gone down this year with 44 reported injuries, compared to 59 in 2010, for the first three rounds.

When looking at the number of injuries per 1000 playing hours, the results tell a similar story with this year again recording a drop in injury rate (2011 = 53, 2010 = 71).

Regarding concussions, the NRL has long had strict procedures on concussions and is continuing a review of procedures for dealing with concussion which are contained in the NRL Medical Officer’s Handbook.

In looking to ensure the ongoing review of safety measures, NRL Director of Football Operations Nathan McGuirk some weeks ago commissioned NRL Chief Medical Officer Ron Muratore to research whether there is a case for standardising post-concussive procedures and testing across all NRL clubs, and also whether there should be further investigation into standardising game-day procedures across all clubs when dealing with concussed players during a match. NRL club doctors will discuss these matters with Dr Muratore this Thursday and the NRL will determine any further steps.

The current concussion guidelines in the NRL Medical Officer’s Handbook detail the process by which the severity of a potential concussion should be assessed from: from the first interaction with an on-field trainer to a seven-step sideline assessment by the Club Medical Officer and the instruction for a post-concussion assessment at various intervals including post-match, the next day, the following week and for complex concussions where symptoms persist for greater than 10 days.

Extensive recommendations and examples of how to test the extent of injury are also provided.

The existing steps are in line with world standards.

The discussion around injuries and in particular concussion has led to inevitable debate around interchanges.

It is important to remember there is no time in the game where the referee is prevented from stopping play to interchange a genuinely injured player.

In terms of interchanges the NRL currently allows 10 interchanges in a game from a four-man bench. This was reduced from 12 in 2008 and had previously been unlimited.

We thought it worthwhile to explain the history in relation to interchanges:

-    From 1908 and 1925 a local rule operated in NSW whereby a replacement player was allowed for an injured player.

-    Between 1925 and 1963 there were no replacements allowed.

-    In 1963 the replacement rule was revived in Sydney whereby any team could replace up to two injured players up to and including halftime.

-    In 1970 at a meeting of the International Board in October it was agreed that two replacements for injured players be allowed at any time during a game (each of whom had to have played at least half a game in the lower grades).�

-    In 1987 a ‘head-bin’ was introduced to allow players suffering minor head injuries to return to the field of play after 10 minutes without affecting the team's quota of replacements.

-    In 1988 two fresh reserves were allowed but again with a limit of two changes per team per match.

-    In 1991 concern over the potential spread of blood-borne diseases and the perceived ‘abuse’ of the head-bin rule saw the introduction of a four-player bench (two of whom could be fresh reserves and two of whom must have played half a game in the preceding Reserve Grade or President's Cup) and unlimited interchanges. By April that year the rule was modified to allow a maximum of four players available for a total of six interchanges in a match. Players sent to the ‘blood-bin' did not count among these six interchanges.

-    In 1996 the game returned to an unlimited interchange rule with fresh reserves.

-    In 2001 interchanges were limited to 12, with ‘blood-bins’ not included.

-    In 2008 the game adopted the current 10 interchange rule in consultation with club officials, coaches and players. The 10 interchanges would include any blood-bin replacements, injury replacements and tactical replacements. There was discussion at the time on whether the number should be reduced further but the need to avoid injured players being kept on the field because a team may run out of replacements was deemed too great.