Phil Gould has blasted the introduction of independent doctors to the Bunker as “the greatest abomination perpetrated on our game in history”, after the opening round of the NRL season was marred by a host of players being pulled from the field for head injury assessments in controversial circumstances.
Paul Gallen has also slammed the radical set-up, implemented by the NRL ahead of the 2022 season, and called for the governing body to return to using club doctors.
While club doctors used to make calls on players leaving the field for head injury assessments, either by observing in the flesh or via a mini screen on the sideline, independent doctors watching from the Bunker away from the ground now tell referees to remove players to undergo HIAs. The HIAs are still conducted by the club doctors at the ground.
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NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo insisted in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday that the contentious procedure was here to stay.
Abdo’s firm stance followed the polarising decisions to order Kalyn Ponga, Kotoni Staggs, Jacob Kiraz and Sebastian Kris from the field during round one.
Gould unloaded on the first edition of the season of Nine’s 100% Footy.
“I’ve talked [about] this concussion hysteria and where the game is headed and why it’s headed that way and who they’ve given weight to: media and doctors and lawyers. All this misinformation…” Gould said.
“I think the doctor in the Bunker is the greatest abomination perpetrated on our game in history. It’s confusing for players. Not every bump to the head is a concussion, not every concussion is life-threatening. It’s just total overkill.
“I don’t know how the players and the coaches are going to contend with this. I understand player welfare. So do clubs, so do coaches, so does everybody, so do doctors.
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“Unfortunately the club doctors are put in a position where they want the independent doctor because they don’t want to have to make the decision themselves. It’s just too difficult.
“It’s not going to change, the game will not back away from this, they will keep doing it and it’s going to create more and more problems.”
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Gould argued the independent doctors operating from the Bunker, sometimes from a location thousands of kilometres away, were being too conservative.
“Not every slap to the face or bump in the head requires a HIA review,” Gould said.
“It just would appear that old mate up in the Bunker has decided whenever someone gets a bump to the head they’ve got to go off and get checked for 15 minutes, which I find totally ludicrous.
“It’s like arguing with people on climate change. It’s the same thing. They keep throwing up the same rubbish. How far down this rabbit hole do you want to go? As they say, don’t argue with idiots.”
Ponga was forced from the field by an independent doctor in the 69th minute of the Knights’ clash with the Warriors on Friday, after colliding with Addin Fonua-Blake.
The game was in the balance at 14-12 in the Warriors’ favour and, because players must leave the field for 15 minutes for head injury assessments, Newcastle’s most influential player did not take any further part in the match, which the New Zealand outfit won 20-12.
The Queensland State of Origin fullback argued with referee Chris Sutton when he was told to depart the field, claiming he was fine, before he and Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien vented their frustration over the decision in their press conference.
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“I think it should be put back in the hands of the club doctors,” Gallen said on 100% Footy.
“No one knows the players better than the club doctor … You can’t question the integrity of the club doctor and I’ve got no doubt there wouldn’t be a club doctor in the game that would cheat the system or do the wrong thing. I’ve got no doubt.”
Gallen then arced up about independent doctors ruling from the Bunker.
“They’re so far away,” he said.
“They’re not even at the ground being able to see the players. A lot of times you might cop a slap in the face, but how you react after that should come into account, as well.”
Gallen’s remarks about independent doctors working from the Bunker triggered Gould.
“I find it ridiculous that a doctor sitting in the Bunker nowhere near the ground, without even talking to the player, looking at the player, examining the player, can decide he’s category one and can’t return,” Gould said.
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“Even if that player comes off and passes his HIA, he can’t return because old mate’s already ruled him out of the game.
“We’ve seen the bad ones, we know the bad ones when we see them, we know the ones that probably shouldn’t return to play, the clubs already know that. But the rest of them? The slaps in the faces and all that sort of thing? It is an indictment on our game — it really is.
“The players don’t understand why they’re being dragged there.
“And it’s all about litigation, it’s all about litigation, that’s what it’s about … They’re worried about this tsunami of class action which has been threatening for ages but which never comes, and if it did, I say take them on.”
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