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High crimes and low misdemeanours: Why NRL’s crackdown misses target

Rather than connect with the “sweet spot” above the hips and below the shoulders, Yappy copped the “bony bits” and was dazed for some time.

So, not all low tackles are safe, just as not all high tackles are harmful.

Furthermore, while the defender usually determines the contact, Les’s hip drop demonstrates that the ball-carrier can influence the collision point.

Tom Raudonikis remained mentally sharp up until his death recently at the age of 70, despite a bruising rugby league career.

Tom Raudonikis remained mentally sharp up until his death recently at the age of 70, despite a bruising rugby league career.Credit:Paul Harris

Dr Martin Raftery, World Rugby’s deputy Chief Medical Officer, set the safety protocols for the 2019 World cup and agrees that some tackles are dangerous but legal – particularly upright ones, where tackler and ball-carrier risk a clash of heads.

“A key point from our research is that ‘illegal’ tackles are 36 times more likely to result in a head injury, but they make up a small number of head injuries,” he said.

“This is why the sport needs to focus on high-risk tackles (in rugby’s case, upright tackles) as these are also high risk for head injury.”

In other words, rather than send-off/sin-bin/report all cases of high contact by the defender, the NRL should realise the safety issue in tackles is multi-factorial, just as hamstring injuries defy simple explanations.

Dr Raftery, who was a first-grade player with Cronulla and later the Dragons’ medico, has been following the current concussion debate in the NRL.

He said another point ignored is the importance of age, rather than head-knocks, in dementia: “The biggest risk factor is age and, while 2 per cent of the general population suffers dementia, from age 60 onwards, the risk doubles every five years.”

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There has been frequent mention in the media of former Dragons John Raper and Billy Smith passing in the corridor of the same nursing home, without recognising each other. Their age group would put them in the 16 percent risk bracket.

Two younger champions, Tommy Raudonikis and Bob Fulton, died recently of causes unrelated to dementia.

I spoke to Tommy regularly and texted Bozo frequently. Both were very sharp mentally, even in days leading up to their death. Their ages put them both in the 4 percent risk category.

If both had ended up suffering with dementia like Raper and Smith ten years later, age would have been a more likely cause than head knocks.

Dr Raftery cites a Swedish study which shows the risk of dementia for someone in the 60 to 65 age group who has had a previous concussion increases by just one fiftieth of 1 percent.

Medical science does not know the quantifiable risk of successive head injuries, but if you assume the risk doubled with two concussions, it increases from 2.02% to 2.04% – which, given the rewards of playing contact sport, is a risk many would be willing to take.

Players possess a radar for duplicity and I’m not as appalled as others by a recent poll revealing NRL players have relaxed attitudes to concussion and Covid-19. There has been significant over-reaction to both by governing bodies, who used miniscule rates per thousand to justify draconian responses, partly as a cover for past mistakes.

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