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In Touch: Why league's the toughest game

Leila McKinnon NRL.com Tue, Apr 05, 2011 - 10:00 AM

Michael de Vere split his head open ... then went back to "work". Copyright: Action Photographics

There's one major difference between your job and the job of a rugby league player. Sure they all earn a lot more money than most of us, are more famous, and get a lot more offers from the opposite sex. But the fundamental difference is we don't put our bodies on the line for our employers.

Imagine if you split your head open at work, and your boss grabbed a staple gun and stapled it back together at your desk so you could keep working uninterrupted, just like Michael De Vere in Origin 2003. 

Picture how impressed your boss would be if, like John Sattler in 1970, you were so determined to win for the team you kept battling on with a mouth full of teeth and blood and a broken jaw.

Sattler later said: "League is a hard game and I think your mind and your body just get used to it. You get used to the toughness, the big knocks, and you learn how to take it."

The physical toll is part of the game, but with 41 injuries to players in the first three rounds of the season, it's now making headlines. 

Newcastle seemed to cop the worst of it in round three. Coach Rick Stone said with five players off injured and two others needing treatment, the Knights’ dressing room resembled a MASH unit.

The biggest concern is not for the players, who are expected to be - and are - tough, but for the clubs who are losing $10 million worth of talent and are not permitted to replace them because of the salary cap. Des Hasler wants the issue addressed, saying: "We can't let a couple of injuries potentially ruin a club's season." 

As a Roosters fan, I'd be pretty distraught if the Roosters lost Todd Carney for the season; losing Sam Perrett for months is bad enough.

But my biggest concern is for the players’ mums, wives, and girlfriends. Every time a player is knocked out or stretchered off I think of them. I'm sure it's not easy to be the partner of a rugby league player anyway, riding the highs and lows of wins and losses, and the inevitable season scandals. 

But it takes another kind of toughness to watch as someone you love is hurt. If I was married to John Sattler I would have marched on to the field and dragged him off by the ear. And if I had a son who wanted to play I would probably ruin the whole experience for him by making him wear head gear.

So this is a salute to the players of league who are the toughest sportsmen in Australia, but most of all for the women of league who, in some ways, are even tougher.