Australia’s east coast might have been lashed by one of the wettest summers on record, but the wild weather has apparently proved a godsend for the NRL with experts claiming the big wet has played a leading role in injury rates dropping significantly in 2012.
Approaching the midpoint of this season, the 16 NRL clubs have used just 382 players compared with 409 at the corresponding time last year – a massive 27-player difference or almost two fewer players used per club.
Among those clubs to have enjoyed significant improvement in the health of their roster are Canterbury (just 20 players used compared to 25 last year), Newcastle (30 down to 25) and Wests Tigers (29 down to 25) while North Queensland (21 up to 25), Penrith and St George (both 22 up to 24) have all endured a tougher time than 12 months ago.
And it’s not just simple coincidence, according to Roosters medico Dr John Orchard who believes our sad summer has brightened the prospects of our NRL stars.
“The heavy rain in March… we usually have higher injury rates at the start of the season because the grounds are a bit faster and the speed of the game is pretty high for those early rounds, but because it was so wet in March in Sydney, that probably had an effect,” Dr Orchard said. “It meant we went into ‘winter footy’ early on in the piece rather than having really fast-paced footy early on in the season.
“I mean, we’re putting in more resources [into recovery and rehabilitation] than we ever have at the Roosters and we hope it’s making a difference for us but it’s hard to say. I tend to think it is more things like weather and softer grounds early on.”
Dr Orchard said that recent criticisms of the speed of the play-the-ball this season were ironic given that it had actually contributed significantly to keeping players on the park. In particular he pointed to stress injuries such as muscle strains as having dropped significantly at the Roosters in 2012.
“If you’ve got a faster, more open game you get more injuries,” he said. “People are complaining about lack of tries but a closed-in game tends to have players moving at less speed and fewer injuries, whereas the electric-pace games have more injuries because of the higher speed.
“You certainly get more muscle strains when the game is more open and at higher pace. We’ve had fewer of those at the Roosters, which is good. We’ve had a good year with injury… and we had a tough year last year.”
Dr Orchard isn’t alone in his assessment of the weather, with Cronulla and NSW doctor David Givney agreeing that the softer and slower playing surfaces had played their part.
“In my opinion the weather is the main reason,” he said. “With the extra rain come heavier tracks which slows the game down and prevents those muscle strains – plus when the players hit the deck they’ve got a bit more cushioning as well.
“We actually had a bit of a scare earlier in the season with three major ACL injuries (to Nathan Stapleton, Anthony Tupou and Nathan Gardner) which had us worried we were doing something wrong with training, or the type of boots we were wearing, but when we looked into it we found that they were all different types of ACL injury, with different causes.
“And other than those three injuries we’ve had pretty much nothing all year.”
Despite Cronulla’s misfortune on the ACL front, knee injuries in general have seen little change this season according to NRL research board associate professor Donna O’Connor.
O’Connor has been tracking injuries around the clubs for the past four to five years and said that ACL injuries continued to remain fairly stagnant no matter the favourable or unfavourable conditions.
“I actually received a phone call a few weeks back suggesting that ACL injuries may be on the rise, but I looked into it and the facts didn’t back that up – there was no significant change from previous years,” she said.
Meanwhile Dr Orchard said that clubs were investing more than ever before in recovery and rehabilitation – but admitted that sometimes injuries were just luck of the draw.
“We’ve put a lot into it at our club,” he said. “We’ve got two full-time physios and four fitness staff, so we’re doing more than we ever have, but you don’t see huge differences in injury rates between the clubs that have the most resources and the rest.
“The Broncos would have more money than everyone but I don’t think they have the lowest injury rates. I mean, they can have all the resources they want but [Jharal] Yow Yeh gets a massive fracture of the ankle and they just have to cop it.
“But on the whole I think the weather has had a big influence – and it was good to have the extra bye for the Test match week too, which gave everyone a week off early in the piece.
“That might affect things positively further down the track, too.”
INJURIES BY CLUB
(after 12 rounds)
Broncos: 23 (27 in 2011)
Bulldogs: 20 (25 in 2011)
Raiders: 24 (27 in 2011)
Sharks: 22 (26 in 2011)
Titans: 25 (27 in 2011)
Sea Eagles: 24 (22 in 2011)
Storm: 22 (25 in 2011)
Knights: 25 (30 in 2011)
Cowboys: 25 (21 in 2011)
Eels: 23 (25 in 2011)
Panthers: 26 (24 in 2011)
Dragons: 26 (24 in 2011)
Rabbitohs: 24 (26 in 2011)
Roosters: 25 (25 in 2011)
Warriors: 25 (29 in 2011)
Tigers: 23 (26 in 2011)
Total: 382 (409 in 2011)