Rules hiccup: Injured players have to soldier on

TWO unrelated yet strangely similar incidents in Round 12 matches over the weekend highlighted exactly why the NRL and the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) have plenty of work to do when it comes to negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement this year.<br><br>The first occurred moments before kick-off on Friday night when Parramatta’s veteran back-rower Nathan Hindmarsh was forced to withdraw with a chest injury.<br><br>Hindmarsh had fully expected to play and ran out with his team-mates for the pre-match warm-up, but after copping a knock during contact work was forced to inform the doctor that he would no longer be able to take the field.<br><br>NRL rules stipulate that a player cannot be replaced after the official team sheet has been lodged an hour before kick-off unless he is injured during the warm-up.<br><br>Hindmarsh had been in doubt with injury during the week and, although coach Daniel Anderson refused to release details, the NRL will investigate whether or not the injury was pre-existing, with the Eels facing a possible $10,000 fine if found guilty.<br><br>The second incident took place 24 hours later in Townsville when Manly co-captain Jamie Lyon suffered a high-ankle sprain against North Queensland. Due to a quirk in the NRL rule book that doesn’t allow players to be replaced while a scrum is forming, Lyon was forced to take his place in the backline and wait for the first tackle to be made before limping from the field.<br><br>Some are worried these are examples of a player’s welfare being overlooked.<br><br>While players themselves look like getting their way when it comes to wage increases – with the NRL set to boost the salary cap by $300,000 per club, per year – the RLPA has already laid out its agenda, with the welfare of players right at the top of the list.<br><br>And although the NRL has been actively working with players to address issues relating to their increasing workload in recent years, perception is king.<br><br>Unfortunately, at times the perception is that players must fend for themselves – even if their arms are broken.<br><br>At a time all parties are about to enter into the most important CBA negotiations ever, they need to know that their welfare is being taken seriously.<br><br>In the case of Lyon, the rule that prevented him from being replaced on Saturday night was introduced for a valid reason after coaches began using the opportunity of a break in play to waste a few extra minutes interchanging players. The game has since cut the number of interchanges per game to 10, thus reducing such opportunities for coaches to slow down the game.<br><br>Of course, despite criticism of the rule’s existence from some quarters over the past few weeks, such quirks are always going to escape attention until an incident takes place to bring it to our attention.<br><br>The fact that there have been two of them in as many weeks bring this one to the fore; in Round 11, Warriors halfback James Maloney could only watch as South Sydney strolled past him to score as he waited to come from the field with a back injury.<br><br>As it stands, however, the rule looks like staying – for now at least – with NRL chief operating officer Graham Annesley admitting he was still concerned that coaches could revert to abusing scrum interchanges.<br><br>“The alternative is to go back to the extended delays we used to have,” he said. “It’s all about trying to eliminate as many stoppages as possible.<br><br>“From memory the rule was first brought in when we had 12 interchanges so I can’t see the problem going away with two less interchanges.<br><br>“Like anything, if there is a genuine feeling that the rule needs to be changed then we’ll look at it but as it stands that’s the rule we’ve currently got.”<br><br>Rugby league has received plenty of good news in recent times. North Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston recently re-signed with his club for another three years after knocking back a big money offer to head overseas; former Dragons star Mark Gasnier has expressed a desire to return and, while his future remains undecided, Brisbane’s Israel Folau won’t be defecting to new rugby franchise the Melbourne Rebels next year.<br><br>But the task is ongoing and the coming months will be crucial – all the players want is to know that the rugby league world is listening.<br>