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Thaiday: How to fail an HIA

Elbow, apple, carpet, baby, bubble.

Those are the five words that Broncos forward Sam Thaiday couldn't recall as he completed a Head Injury Assessment during Brisbane's Round 16 clash with Canberra and why he wasn't allowed back onto the field.

There is rarely a game in the NRL these days where a player isn't taken from the field and down the tunnel to the bowels of the stadium in order to undertake an HIA. Some return to the field of play, many others don't but there is generally very little understanding of what players are subjected to in order to determine if they are in a fit state to continue.

Not subjected to an HIA last Friday night due to the severity of the incident in which he was involved, Broncos winger Corey Oates has been named to face the Storm in this Friday's preliminary final but must complete an exhaustive series of tests along with a brain scan before he will be finally cleared to play.

It's a series of tests that Thaiday was subjected to three months ago with the brain scan compared to one taken early in the pre-season for the purpose of monitoring any potential changes that may have occurred as a result of head knocks.

Now in his 15th season in the NRL, Thaiday concedes that he was "filthy" at being told he couldn't go back on the field against Canberra but says the treatment of modern players sheds a different light on the toughness of those of previous eras.

"You have to look at your life in the long term," said Thaiday, the father of two daughters.

"At the end of the day you still want to be able to hold a conversation with someone when you've finished playing footy and still have enough smarts there to be intelligent.

"The game has evolved and come a long way since I first started playing in 2003.

"You talk about the toughness of those players [of the past] but you've got to think was it tough or was it silly?

"There are a fair few repercussions now with some of those ex-players who played back in those days where they just got back up in the line and kept on playing."

‌Whilst the nature of head knocks may make the decision as to who can and can't return seem arbitrary, Thaiday went some way to explaining the science behind each HIA that is undertaken and why someone not in a fit cognitive state would struggle to pass it.

"I couldn't remember the five words," Thaiday said of why he failed the test in Canberra. "I can tell what they are now. Elbow, apple, carpet, baby, bubble. I can remember them now but I couldn't remember them that night, and they change from week to week from test to test.

"They tell you the five words at the start of the test, you go through a few different questions – what's the time, what's the date, where are we playing, what's the score, who did we play last week, did we win or lose – you have to say the months of the year backwards and you have to repeat numbers backwards to the doctor. It starts at three numbers and goes to four, five, six numbers.

"At the end of this, probably seven to 10 minutes later, you have to repeat the five words that you were told at the start of the test.

"It's all been scientifically done to make sure that the player's OK to go back out on the field.

"The following week I had to go through four different HIA tests with the doctor and get a brain scan. Passed all those and was cleared to play the following week."

And because he knows what is involved, Thaiday is confident that Oates will be functioning at full capacity should he run out alongside him in Melbourne on Friday.

"I know this week already he's had three different tests that he's had to pass even just to be out here on the training paddock with us," explained Thaiday, after Oates took part in a modified training program on Tuesday morning.

"It's not just a sit down with the doctor and say 'Are you OK?' There are a fair few tests, he's had a brain scan as well so there's a fair bit that goes on to get a player back on the field.

"If Corey doesn't pass those tests he doesn't play and it does come down to a doctor's decision."


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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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