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Robinson welcomes DIY management of serious concussions

Coach Trent Robinson says the NRL’s new concussion rules strike the right balance between managing player health and trusting clubs to look after their charges.

March 16, 2023
By Jasper Bruce
16 March 2023

Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson says clubs can’t expect the NRL to regulate lay-offs for players with extensive concussion history after the league introduced its 11-day stand-down policy.

On Wednesday, the NRL made the most significant changes to its concussion blueprint in almost a decade, announcing players would be automatically sidelined for 11 days if they suffered head knocks.

The change comes after Newcastle five-eighth Kalyn Ponga suffered his fourth concussion in 10 months during round two, sparking fears about his immediate future in the game.

But the new rules do not provide special guidelines for players with extensive concussion history like Ponga, who is expected to require longer than 11 days to return to play.

Robinson’s Roosters have led the NRL in managing such players; in 2021, the club supported senior players Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend in their decision to retire from the game following repeated head knocks.

When the Roosters were battling for finals contention last season, five-eighth Luke Keary had six weeks off to recover from a nasty head knock suffered against Melbourne in round 14.

Amid Friend and Cordner’s concussion struggles two years ago, Robinson called on the NRL to take a bigger role in supporting players feeling the long-term effects of head knocks.

But on Thursday, the three-time premiership-winning coach said the NRL’s new concussion rules struck the right balance between monitoring player welfare and empowering clubs to manage their own players who had longer concussion history.

“It’s hard to mandate those ones,” Robinson said.

“You can’t ask the NRL to do that, that’s up to the club doctors and the club to do their work, and independent specialists that we use as well to say what’s best, when there’s been multiple or lingering symptoms.

“It’s a pretty serious injury to the brain but it’s like any other injury, you can’t mandate on hamstrings or shoulders or anything like that.

“There’s a lot of care in clubs. You’ve got to leave it up to them to take care of that.”

The 11-day stand-down rule has some leeway and clubs are able to apply for exemptions if a range of criteria are satisfied, including that the player is asymptomatic and has had less than five previous concussions.

Players who had suffered another head knock in the previous three months and who had a history of lingering concussion symptoms would be ineligible for exemptions.

“There are outliers, which I think they’ve left the door open for, which is not a bad thing to leave the door open for slight shifts or changes on that,” Robinson said.

“Eleven days is going to look after a lot of players, sometimes it might be too long, sometimes it might be too short.

“I think they’ve done the right thing.”

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