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Immortal's plight shows concussion is a ticking time bomb

Dragons Immortal Graeme
Dragons Immortal Graeme "Changa” Langlands in 2014. Renee McKay

SO Changa Langlands has joined the list of rugby league's injured and brave.

The rugby league Immortal has suffered brain deterioration that has resulted in him being placed in a nursing home suffering Alzheimer's disease and needing 24-hour care.

In any other era it would be a sombre reminder of our own frailties.

If someone like Chang, not only one of the greats but also among the toughest, could suffer like this, then what of the rest of us?

But it is a different conversation now. The real answer is nobody knows.

Much has been made about the effects of cumulative concussions and their appearance as chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of dead footballers, linked to their battle with dementia before their deaths.

Yet the disease still can't be diagnosed in anyone with a heartbeat and so nobody knows who is walking around with a time bomb in their head. Or, who isn't.

It is a tough time for the game.

Against this backdrop three clubs continue to challenge the $350,000 in fines the NRL levied against them earlier this season for failing to replace concussed players.

The NRL is considering their complaints and will give their answer within days. Suffice to say, some of the fines will still stand, some will be suspended.

 

Simon Mannering of the Warriors leaves the field with the team doctor after suffering concussion in round one.
Simon Mannering of the Warriors leaves the field with the team doctor after suffering concussion in round one. DAVID ROWLAND

It shows the conversation around concussion is still difficult in the NRL. It is hard to know what position to take.

The same day Langlands appeared on the front pages, Noel Kelly, six years older, appeared on Fox League Legends as bright as a new coin.

Kelly's appearance put paid to any idea that playing the game is an early sentence to a tragic ending.

Without knowing how Chang's problems were caused, is it becoming too easy to blame the frailties of old men on the game they played?

It didn't miss some that Langlands spent his entire career in the backline, switching from centre to fullback, while Kelly played his entire career at fron trow or hooker in an era when a player had to know how to defend himself.

On top of that, Kelly came through boxing in Jimmy Sharman's tents, an environment not known for its health and safety practices.

The game needs to constantly update.

On Monday, the NRL asked the Warriors for an explanation why David Fusitu'a was not assessed when he showed every indication he suffered an on-field concussion against Gold Coast on Sunday.

It was picked up in the commentary and Fusitu'a seemed to show the classic symptoms. Yet he remained on field.

Clubs are still trying to find their way around the new rules as they come to grips with balancing player welfare against their instinct to win.

In response to the crackdown clubs have begun arguing for an 18th man and even a 19th man to replace players called off for head injury assessments.

In reality, there is no need for an 18th man. Clubs already have the option to select specialist replacements, they just choose not to do it.

Over time it was the clubs, not the game, who turned replacements into a luxury.

Replacements were originally introduced to allow teams to take injured players from the field, originally replacing them with men who had played earlier in the day.

It had become a necessity.

Then fresh replacements were introduced. Two at first, with two more having qualified in lower grades, before all four replacements were fresh players.

Then, over time, coaches realised not all four players were required to replace injured players so they began using them tactically.

Now, almost every bench carries four forwards to replace their middle and edge forwards when fatigue strikes. If injury strikes it throws their whole rotation into chaos.

What gets left out of any conversation thereafter is that at any time a coach could instead choose a specialist position, say a halfback or fullback, to sit on his bench in case something unforeseen happens but instead he plays the odds and chooses not to.

Have coaches become spoiled?

This dovetails perfectly into the other argument currently on the game's backburner, which is exactly how many interchanges is best for the game.

Last season the game dropped from 10 to eight and most agree it was better. Some now say by holding strong on its refusal to introduce an 18th man the game might force clubs to think more strategically when it comes to their bench, reducing interchange by natural attrition.

Could the game have found its answer? It opens a whole new facet of the game.

Topics:  concussion nrl sportopinion

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