NRL: Why the crackdown on head contact could indirectly result in more concussions

Column: @Hayward_AdamK

The majority of concussions suffered in the NRL are to the players making tackles as opposed to a high tackle to the ball runner.  


Everyone can agree that referees absolutely should implement the sin bin and send off for careless and reckless high shots, which then result in a charge from the Match Review Committee and prosecuted at the judiciary if required.  

But officiating high tackles as a black and white rule means basic common sense does not come into the on-field decision process. Accidental and incidental contact to the head from a defender has and will continue copping the same on-field punishment as careless or reckless contact to the head.

The Josh Papalii, Tyrell Fuimaono and Herman Ese’Ese high contact incidents from Magic Round were all careless and/or reckless and very much deserved to be sent off. But there were other examples of contact to the head which were unavoidable and complete accidents yet ended with sin bins.


Cowboys forward Lachlan Burr was sent to the sin bin for making contact with the head of Roosters fullback James Tedesco, however Tedesco fell into the tackle and his head made contact with Burr’s right pectoral muscle. There was nothing Burr could have done to avoid contact to the head of Tedesco.

Another example was Dragons forward Josh McGuire sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on the Storm centre Justin Olam where he was wrong footed, stuck his arm out and the first point of contact was chest height, but unfortunately his arm bounced up off the ball and made contact with the head – an unfortunate accident.

Common sense needs to be used in these incidents and the mitigating circumstances to how a defender makes contact to the head of the ball runner does matter – award a penalty, warn the player and move on. These sorts of accidents will always happen in the game. If common sense is not used, the spectacle of NRL games could be ruined with teams needlessly at a disadvantage because of players sent to the sin bin.

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The problem ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys has and may not realize, is the rules he introduced to speed up the game in order to bring in fatigue – which apparently makes the product more entertaining – has already resulted in countless defenders unable to properly execute their tackling technique due to fatigue, resulting in an increase in Head Injury Assessments (HIA’s).

You could argue the manufactured speed of the current game has cost Roosters captain Jake Friend his career, as fatigue may have played a big part of him getting his head in the wrong position while trying to make tackles.

Now, V’landys is encouraging defenders to tackle lower, which is completely understandable as we need to do the best we can to get contact to the head out of the game.


However, the faster speed of the game resulting in fatigued defenders now having to be more conscious of lowering their contact in defence, could mean more defenders suffering a concussion from getting their heads in the wrong position while making a tackle, because the game is currently too fast.

So, it is a catch 22 for the NRL.

They will need to find some sort of balance to ensure that not only are the ball runners protected from concussion, but so are the defenders.

To protect the defenders, the game may need to walk back some of the rule changes made so they are not as fatigued when trying to make a tackle, therefore they are a better chance of getting their tackling technique right which will protect the ball runner and themselves.