Broncos coach Wayne Bennett has weighed into the NRL's updated concussion rules stating that he hopes independent doctors are introduced to diagnose whether a player should come off the field after a head knock.
The concussion debate has polarised the rugby league community over the opening five rounds of the Telstra Premiership with Head of Football, Todd Greenberg announcing a number of changes to the existing policy on Wednesday.
In a move to improve player welfare, Greenberg said the new rules, which come into force this weekend, will help club doctors determine what action should be taken when a player suffers a head injury.
The concussion rules have been tightened to make it easier for a club's doctor to make a clinical diagnosis of a player who presents signs of: loss of consciousness, falling to the ground without taking protective action, seizure, memory impairment and balance disturbance (ataxia).
Greenberg stated that under the new rules some of the players who returned to the field after clinical assessment in the first five rounds would have been prohibited from returning to play.
The most notable example of this was Parramatta's Nathan Peats against the Warriors in Round 3 when the Eels conceded they neglected to follow protocol for Peats' concussion test and insisted he was fit to return to the field, which he eventually did.
The Eels have since received a $20,000 fine ($10,000 suspended) for the incident.
"Under the strengthened rules, if a player falls to the ground without taking protective action or loses consciousness they are not to return to the field," Greenberg said.
"There will be no need to undergo further assessments and tests – the player is to sit out the rest of the match. This will take the pressure off club doctors because, if players exhibit these signs it is compulsory that they are removed from the field and do not return."
Still trying to wrap his head around the concussion rule changes, Bennett believes independent – not club doctors – should be making the diagnosis on whether a player should return to the field or not after a head knock.
"I tried to read [the rules] last night and it looked complicated to me and I thought – I'll let the doctor worry about it – it's his problem," Bennett said.
"Reading it last night I just assumed if you get a head knock now you're probably out of the game. That's what I got from reading it so we'll just see where it goes.
"There wasn’t much scope to put the player back on, that's what I thought.
"I don’t agree with [the rules] I just agree with the medical assessment part of it. I hope they move towards independent doctors. At the end of the day that's what I hope they do – that takes away anyone who thinks they have power or control over the doctor.
"If you bring an independent doctor into it there's no chance of a rort. Whatever rule we've introduced coaches have tried to bend it somewhere or someone on the staff have tried to bend it, not all clubs I'm saying, but that's invariably what's happened."
The veteran coach has seen a countless number of players come off second best after copping a head knock throughout his 28 years at the top level and is pleased further action is being taken surrounding the concussion issue.
However, Bennett stressed that the 'warrior mentality' which he believes is a quintessential quality of a rugby league player could be eroded if players are forced to come off and not return.
"If a player thinks he's going to get rubbed out the minute he comes off the field then it's going to make it harder for [coaches] to get them off the field," he said.
"We've convinced them now that it's in their best interests to come off and there's a good system in place. [But] they've got the warrior mentality these guys and you don’t want them any other way – that's a make-up of a good rugby league player – and a warrior mentality is 'I'm not going to let my teammates down, I'm going to stay here'.
"That's what they were brought up on, it's changing and I'm happy with the change, but at the same time I don’t want to make it a situation that's really difficult for us as coaches and medical staff trying to get someone off that knows he's going to get rubbed out straight away as soon as he comes off the ground.
"At least now there's a system in place and there's a chance some of them do get back [onto the field]. A lot of them don’t but some of them do and that's why they want that window of opportunity [to examine a player]."
The Broncos had their own brush with the previous incarnation of the concussion rules when prop Josh McGuire was left dazed after a knock against the Cowboys in Round 3.
McGuire played the opening 20 minutes before coming off for assessment and did not return.
"When Josh came to me at half-time and told me he was OK to go back on but the doctor wouldn’t let him he was pretty angry," Bennett added.
"I told him to settle down and behave himself because the doctor was doing the right thing by him.
"That's the warrior mentality. That's why you're fighting with them. He felt good and wanted to go back out there and play and the doctor said he was out for the game."
Bennett also stated that he was open to the idea of having an 18th man on standby should a player be deemed unfit to return to play after the doctors' diagnosis.
The master coach also insisted that the Broncos' backyard was in order when quizzed on whether there was a leaning towards favouring a certain player and bending the concussion rules.
"I can only talk about the club doctors I have worked with," he said.
"At the Knights that didn’t happen and it won't happen on my watch – no one will interfere with the doctor here about his job and what he needs to do and what are his duties – so that's just a no-go zone for all of us here on the staff.
"With an independent doctor there's no way your trainer is going to take a player off that isn’t suffering a head injury so it just clears it all up. It's pretty simple to do and maybe we'll get there someday.
"My major worry is that ethically we are all doing the right thing at every club and we're doing the right thing by the player."