What’s being done to prevent head injury in Rugby League?

In light of a recent blog outlining the shortcomings of concussion protocols in football and the negligence of concussed players, I decided to take a look at protocols of another and possibly even more concussion saturated sport – rugby league. 

You only need to have watched 10 minutes of a rugby league match to realise the risk of head injuring, wincing at every high tackle and errant elbow. 

We have seen the harrowing results of head injury in rugby as recently as 2016, in which Huddersfield academy player, Ronan Costello, suffered a blow to the head and started to fit. Within 72 hours he had died. He was 17-years old. 

At present, the RFL (Rugby Football League), have stipulated strict protocols outlining the process a player should undergo after suffering a head injury, commonly known as the four Rs: 

Recognise – The signs and symptoms of concussion 

Remove – The player from the field of play 

Recover – Fully before returning to sport 

Return – Only after following graduated return to play process 

Although this protocol is often followed diligently by the physios and doctors at professional clubs, can the same be said for those at amateur level? Where in some cases there are no physios or team doctors present at all? 

As well as this, the hyper-masculine culture the game creates, in which surrendering to an injury, even in the name of personal safety, is a habit coached out of players from an early age, only serves to exacerbate the risks of head injury. 

This can have an influential effect on the occurrence of second impact syndrome, in which the brain swells rapidly, and most often fatally, after suffering a second concussion before the effects of an earlier concussion have a chance to subside. 

Although second impact syndrome is rare, it further highlights the importance of removing players from the pitch the moment there is evidence to support they have suffered a concussion. 

For further insight into the steps taken by professional rugby league clubs to ensure player welfare please see the video below.