Elijah Taylor was just one of a number of NRL stars who suffered serious injuries in Round 21. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Every week on the Channel 9 Sunday Footy Show I present a wrap of injuries, usually starting with those which have occurred that weekend. Following that often gloomy news, I look at the brighter prospect of players expected to return shortly, or anyone whose condition and outlook may have changed. The segment concludes with an update on players enduring longer-term absences, obviously affected by more significant injuries.
Casualty Ward: Full NRL injury list
The number and severity of injuries sustained over the weekend rounds can fluctuate wildly; however the trend is pretty standard – towards the end of the season there is a higher incidence of damage, and that’s unfortunately often damage of a more serious nature.
Last week I was quite overwhelmed as I reviewed every game to compile the injuries list, and discovered that I had three pages, just from games that round. This is more than a trend… it’s a crippling and momentous obstacle desperately challenging even the best of clubs to round up 13 competitive players and get them into jerseys and onto the paddock.
Just ask the Panthers - already without Peter Wallace and Tyrone Peachey, they lost Bryce Cartwright, Elijah Taylor and Brent Kite in their clash with the Bulldogs. The Sharks, who've arguably had the worst injury crisis of any club this year, lost three more handy players with hamstrings against the Eels – Jacob Gagan, Anthony Tupou and Luke Lewis all out. While the boys from the Shire are not contenders for the title this year, the broad-reaching effects of these injuries can't be underestimated.
There are coaches toiling to protect their jobs, players playing for spots and contracts, administrators trying to turn red balance sheets into black... teams just trying to finish the year with a bit of pride, and perhaps without the wooden spoon. That task became infinitely harder last week for Canberra who, against a Warriors outfit looking pretty impressive for most of the 80 minutes, lost Captain Terry Campese, and team mainstays Shaun Fensom, David Shillington and Kurt Baptiste.
The term 'season-ending' gets bandied around a lot this time of year - a six-week stint on the sideline now qualifies - so we can sometimes think the situation is worse than it is. But when every game counts for something, injuries hurt, in lots of different ways.
At the other end of the spectrum of course there are the fringe players, 'chewing at the bit' to get a run - to get their chance to prove they've got what it takes to play first grade regularly. At worst these young hopefuls are extended the opportunity to be ‘blooded’, and quite rightly they would expect to be so much better for that experience when they get a real dig next season.
No-one ever likes to see a player injured, and we have certainly seen the worst of it this year, but along with our undoubted sympathy for the plight of the clubs and the stars we love, out of every injury setback there's an opportunity for someone else to rise - to fill in - to make their parents, family, friends (and their junior rugby league communities!) proud with a spot in first grade… and so the legacy of our mighty game continues.
Despite the absence of so many well-credentialed regular team members, this round will also mark the return of some big names - Paul Gallen is expected to line up for the Sharks after recovering from a torn bicep - that will provide a boost to a club badly in need of something to celebrate. Young Raiders (and future stars in my humble opinion) Jack Wighton and Edrick Lee will return for the big game against the Eels in Darwin. Won’t they have their hands full against a Parramatta team re-finding the sterling form we’ve always known it was capable of - and boasting a Jarryd Hayne who may be in better form than 2009, and who is definitely, in the view of his peers, the best player in the game at the moment?
The sporting landscape is a fickle arena, and how graphically our magnificent 16 teams are demonstrating that at the moment. This round as I watch captivated by the intense, passionate and skillful action on the field, I am going to cast a glance towards, and spare a thought for, those players on the sideline, bandaged, bruised and battered, who have joined us in the spectators ranks. We wish them well, and hope to see every single one of them back on the paddock as soon as humanly possible!