After introducing an 11-day mandatory dismissal for players after brain injury, the NRL is considering further enhancing its concussion protocol with saliva and blood tests.
The ARL committee on Wednesday declared player safety to be the game’s top priority, confirming the first major change to its policy on concussions in almost a decade.
The new rules, which go into effect Thursday, will automatically suspend players diagnosed with concussions for 11 days.
That means you’re guaranteed to miss next weekend’s game, and possibly the second, depending on turnaround time.
Players may, in exceptional circumstances, return sooner only after approval from an NRL-appointed independent neurologist.
For an early return, the player must be asymptomatic the day after the concussion and have cognitive tests returning to normal.
A player is ineligible to apply for early return if he or she has had five or more concussions in the past, had a concussion in the last three months, or had a long period of recovery in the past.
A player deemed to have suffered a Category 1 concussion on the field is not eligible for exemption.
They are determined if a player loses consciousness, fails to defend himself during a fall, or becomes unsteady on his feet after a head knock.
The rule change comes as injured players file a class action lawsuit against the AFL, seeking damages of up to $1 billion.
The NRL says their changes are about player safety rather than legal threats after following advice from experts and looking at global trends.
“Athlete safety is never a priority. It is at the forefront and center of everything we do,” said ARL Commission Chairman Peter V’landys.
“Our current head injury protocol is very strong.
“Following a review of the data and expert advice we received, the committee further enhanced these protocols by providing a mandatory cessation period of 11 days following a diagnosed concussion. .”
The NRL also confirmed that it would consider monitoring techniques such as blood and saliva tests as tools for diagnosing concussion.
Two years ago, British researchers reported that a study of 150 rugby players between 2017 and 2019 showed 94% accuracy in detecting concussions with a saliva test.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a commercial blood test to assess concussions last week, with results available within 18 minutes.
The 11-day inactivity represents the largest change to the NRL’s approach to concussion since the introduction of the Head Injury Rating System in 2014.
The protocol, which has the support of the players’ unions, aligns the sport with World Rugby, which introduced an 11-day standdown period for 15-player matches last year.
Manly coach Anthony Saybolt on Wednesday backed the move after having first-hand experience of the World Rugby system as England’s assistant coach.
“I’ve been through it before and have no concerns,” Saybolt said.
“It’s about protecting players and protecting their health in the short and long term.”
The change comes just days after Karin Ponga’s recent concussion, with Newcastle considering how best to deal with his fourth brain injury in 10 months.