Drysdale broke his neck at the C5-C6 vertebrae against the Magpies. His family described it as a “crusher tackle”, an illegal move in which a player’s chin is forced towards the torso. NSWRL governs the Sydney Shield.
The injury shocked the rugby league community and prompted an outpouring of support. NSWRL was one of many parties involved in fundraising efforts for the $1 million-plus required each year to give Drysdale the round-the-clock care he needs. In August, 2016, NSWRL staffers – including chief executive David Trodden – posted photos of themselves wearing ‘Unite For Kurt’ T-shirts promoting the cause.
The Drysdale family declined to comment on the incident or the legal proceedings when contacted by the Herald. The NSWRL also declined to comment.
In a column for SBS last year, Drysdale’s mother, Sonya, spoke about the family’s ordeal since the tragedy. She said she could no longer watch rugby league and implored the game to address ‘crusher’ tackles to prevent further tragedies.
“It costs more than $1m a year to look after my son who needs 24/7 care and rehabilitation for the rest of his life,” she told sbs.com.au last June.
“While Kurt and his siblings have, for the most part, accepted his injury, I’m still angry. I’m angry that players still use ‘crusher tackles’ – where a grounded player’s chin is forced down towards their torso.
“Mums are supposed to protect and fix things, but I can’t fix this. What I can do is campaign for the change we need so that what happened to my son doesn’t happen to someone you love.
“I’m angry there’s not more awareness of the dangers of these tackles. And I’m concerned that we’ll be seeing more spinal cord injuries because the game is now much faster, and players are much bigger and stronger than when I was growing up watching the game.
“Despite my anger, I’m dedicated to making sure Kurt is healthy, happy and stays alive. Since the accident, I’ve also suffered from severe anxiety, and had to quit my job because Kurt is my main priority.
“I’m hopeful that one day, a cure for paralysis will be found, and as a family, we do our best to help raise funds and awareness for spinal injury research. There is one certainty, though: there is no way my grandchildren will be playing rugby league.”
It’s not the first time an injured player has taken a governing body to court because of an on-field injury. Shane Anthony Green became a tetraplegic when he was 16 after a scrum collapsed and broke his neck at a game in Taree in 1994. Green sued Country Rugby League for $6.5 million, but a 2008 Supreme Court ruling found the CRL had not been negligent.
In an ongoing case, former premiership-winning prop Michael Greenfield started legal action against the ARL Commission five years ago after a shoulder charge ended his career.
The NRL outlawed the shoulder charge in 2013, a year after Greenfield suffered a serious neck injury.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.