NRL clubs and officials want to wait until the impact of the game’s new concussion policy becomes clearer before considering a recommendation by doctors to introduce an 18th man as a replacement for players forced from the field.
A meeting of NRL club doctors on grand final day last year advocated teams having an 18th man on standby to replace players ruled out of the game after a sideline concussion assessment but the recommendation was rejected.
Despite eight players being taken out of the opening seven round one matches to be assessed by club doctors, and only two cleared to return, there are concerns that giving teams access to an 18th man would be difficult to police and could have an even greater impact on the game than the concussion policy.
‘‘I think we need a few more games before we start making recommendations,’’ said Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett, whose team was reduced to 14 men against Penrith after skipper Kurt Gidley and halfback Tyrone Roberts failed sideline concussion tests and fullback Darius Boyd injured a hamstring.
Fairfax Media understands NRL officials had rejected the idea of an 18th man amid concerns about the fairness of a team being able to call on an extra player to replace a player ruled out with concussion when their opponents lose players to injury and can’t replace them.
Such a policy might encourage a player who suffers a hamstring injury to suddenly clutch at his head, and there would also be implications for the salary cap.
‘‘It is something that right now we are not considering implementing because there are several ramifications that have to be well and truly considered prior to introducing more players onto the benches or onto the field of play,’’ NRL football operations director Nathan McGuirk said.
Despite the impact on his side in Saturday night’s 30-8 loss, Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said teams could lose players to injury in any match. ‘‘Whether we decide to introduce an 18th man purely to cover a player who has suffered concussion is not something as club we have considered yet,’’ Gidley said. ‘‘Our priority at the moment, as evident in our match last weekend, is to be guided by our club doctor in regard to whether a player is fit to return the field of play or not.’’
Wests Tigers also lost back-rower Liam Fulton to concussion when they were leading 18-6, and eventually crashed 44-24 to St George Illawarra but coach Michael Potter opposes introducing extra players. ‘‘It wasn’t going to change what happened on the weekend for us, although losing ‘Fults’ was tough,’’ he said. ‘‘We don’t need an 18th man, we’ve got three other reserves. Next we’ll go to 19 players, then 20 etc.’’
Rugby League Medical Officers Association spokesman Sam Sorrenti said he was ‘‘extremely happy’’ with the concussion process but argued more could be done. ‘‘Having an 18th man is something which has been tossed into the air in the past,’’ Sorrenti said. ‘‘I think if the NRL and the doctors think this will be a major issue, then necessary changes will be made. No one wants to disadvantage a team or the spectators because you can quite easily see where both teams will have a number of players off with head injuries and won’t be able to finish the game with a full complement of players.’’
Eels prop Tim Mannah was one player cleared to return after a concussion assessment without costing his team an interchange, and Parramatta coach Brad Arthur said the system worked well.
‘‘At the end of the day, player welfare is our priority,’’ Arthur said. ‘‘It was clear that Timmy had been affected by the tackle.’’