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NRL NFL-style 'eye in the sky' to monitor concussions 

The Age
Chris Barnett
April 11,2014

Knockout blow: Canterbury forward Josh Jackson.

Knockout blow: Canterbury forward Josh Jackson. Photo: Getty Images

The NRL is looking to tackle the concussion dilemma by following the lead of the National Football League in the US and installing ‘‘spotters’’ in stadium boxes to closely monitor players who may be affected by head knocks.

Canterbury this week became the first club to be fined under the competition’s strict new concussion rules for an incident involving forward Josh Jackson in their round two win over Cronulla.

And as the NRL continues to investigate other possible breaches of the policy in the first five rounds – including one in which another Bulldogs player, James Graham, did not leave the field immediately after a heavy knock and later was permitted to return to play – it has emerged they are exploring making further improvements to the monitoring of game-day head knocks.

Fairfax Media has been told the NRL is examining world’s best practice in a bid to stamp out players carrying on playing after being concussed and it’s understood a model of particular interest is the NFL.

The colossal American code has had to face up to player safety and welfare issues like no other sport, paying out $US765 million ($820 million) last year to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4500 former players suffering from brain injuries related to concussion.

The NFL has also introduced a raft of rule changes, sideline concussion tests and return-to-play guidelines in recent years, and last year stationed independent neurologists on the sidelines at all games to evaluate players and treat head injuries.

The NRL made it clear before the season they were not considering adopting the independent doctor model themselves – believing the examination and treatment of players was best left in the hands of club physicians – but another NFL innovation is being considered.

The so-called ‘‘eye in the sky’’, a trainer positioned in a grandstand box to closely watch for dazed and groggy players, has been a fixture at all NFL games since 2012.

If the NRL ultimately chooses to go down that path and adopt a similar system, the spotters, as they are often called in the US, would have access to replays and be able to call sideline medicos to request players be withdrawn to undergo an immediate SCAT3 test.

‘‘Often when you sit on the sideline you don’t see everything and you can miss things,’’ said former Australian team doctor Hugh Hazard.

‘‘So if we had the option of being able to see an instant replay of an incident immediately after it happened it could only be a good thing.’’

Canterbury said they would appeal against the $20,000 fine – $10,000 of it suspended – imposed by the NRL, but footage broadcast on Fox Sports on Wednesday night appeared to quash their defence that physio Steve McCullagh was attending to prop Aiden Tolman when Jackson had been stunned in a tackle in the final minute against the Sharks last month.

Tolman was instead shown to be seated on the bench and McCullagh behind the posts, and Jackson was allowed to play out the final 20 seconds of the match after he was assessed by the physio.

In another development, the NRL may be finally close to a breakthrough study on the impact of collisions on players’ brains using state-of-the-art mouthguards.

Sydney neurosurgeon Richard Parkinson is behind the proposed study, which would provide real-time data from accelerometers in the mouthguards.

Parkinson said he had been in contact with NRL head of football Todd Greenberg about a trial involving players at one club.

‘‘I’ve had a chat to Todd about it and Todd’s going to get back to me,’’ Dr Parkinson said. ‘‘It’s an important study that needs to be done.’

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