Grafton Ghosts centre Cooper Woods helped from the field after he was concussed in a clash with an opposition player.
Grafton Ghosts centre Cooper Woods helped from the field after he was concussed in a clash with an opposition player.

New rugby league concussion laws create headache for clubs

A leading Clarence Valley administrator says new concussion laws to be enforced for the 2020 season could drive some clubs out of the game.

Grafton Ghosts president Gary Gillespie described the rules, which include having an 18th player available as a concussion substitute and a mandatory two week break from playing and training for any player diagnosed with concussion, as costly to administer.

"It's going to be an expense," Gillespie said. "You'll have to like it or lump it."

Gillespie said the rules were part of a raft of changes coming into the game following the merger of the Country Rugby League with the NSW Rugby League in October last year.

He said some teams in the Group 2 competition were struggling to make the necessary changes.

He said the NSWRL had already forced one club to drop its choice of a captain coach for the season and heard rumours of that another could fold any day.

"We could be looking at a seven-team competition," he said. "That's 12 games of football before the finals.

"If your team doesn't make the semis, that's 40 weeks out of the year without football."

But he said rules to reduce the dangers of head knocks in football were necessary and a sign of the times.

"When I was playing, there wasn't the knowledge about the dangers of concussion," he said.

"If a player copped a hit and stayed down, he was thought of as a sook. People know better now."

He said the Ghosts had protocols in place to cope with concussion.

"Our team doctor, Alastair McInnes, is really strong on any sign of concussion," Gillespie said.

"He's had procedures in place for players to deal with concussion for a long time."

While he agreed with the laws, Gillespie was unhappy with the rushed implementation of them.

"We not sure what the NSWRL's criteria for concussion is," he said. "If a player cops a knock and shakes his head, is he out of the game for two weeks?

"Our club is going to have a meeting at the end of February and hopefully we'll have some more information by then."

South Grafton Rebels vice president Terry Power said his main worry was the increased pressure it put on volunteers to make crucial decisions which could affect the team's performance.

"Imagine the pressure on the guy who's volunteered to be the first aider," he said.

"Say Hughie Stanley's had knock and he's got to make a decision on whether he's concussed, which will put him out of the game for two weeks.

"He's got the fans yelling at, he knows there are sponsors who've been putting money into the club, asking questions about the team's performance and it's on him to rule one of the team's best players in or out.

"But he's also got the issue of the player's health to consider to. It's adding a lot of pressure to that role.

"The NSWRL need to understand clubs like ours don't have the luxury of a team doctor on the sidelines making decisions."

Power said the club had not had a chance to consider the new protocols, but it had little choice but to enforce it.

"It might mean teams don't get to put their best team on the field every week," he said.

"It will mean teams have to manage their rosters a bit better and make sure there's cover if there's a spate of head injuries. Club's will have to plan around it."

The NSWRL announced it would introduce the new protocols into all its competitions this season, including an 18th man concussion substitution and a mandatory stand-down period of 14 days.

NSWRL general manager - football Barrie-Jon Mather said the decision was made after a review of concussion policies and procedures.

"We are just trying to increase the level of care and err on the side of caution when it comes to head knocks and concussions," Mather said.

"All sports have taken their guidance from the same experts and the same studies and the NSWRL is doing what they can in the interests of player welfare and safety."

The Daily Examiner has contacted The Lower Clarence Magpies and Group 2 for comment on the new rule