Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita.

New NRL Women's Premiership to have same head injury protocols as men

The NRL's concussion protocols will be applied to the inaugural Women's Premiership in September although the female players will have an updated set of computer tests not presently used in the Telstra Premiership.

The NRL's chief medical officer Dr Paul Bloomfield said the present computerised neurocognitive tests, which players must do at the first training session after a concussion to assess whether they can return for the next match, has been revamped.

The new tests will be used during the upcoming women's competition, featuring the Broncos, Dragons, Sydney Roosters and Warriors.

But they cannot be implemented by the NRL mid-season because player histories as far as head knocks and concussions are concerned were set up in the pre-season.

From November 1, the new computer tests will be available to NRL clubs as well.

"The plan is to have exactly the same rules for the head injury assessments for women and men, because there's no need for them to be any different," Bloomfield said.

"But further research is needed with regards to women being more prone to getting concussion or not. The international consensus doesn't have definitive answers to that but has called for further research into that area.

"Women potentially take longer to recover ... it's theory at this stage and could be due their to different hormone levels to men.

"But each player is treated individually, so if their symptoms take longer to recover – whether male or female – they'll be treated the way they presented."

In a wide-ranging media briefing on Thursday, Dr Bloomfield also said:

  •  No decision has been made yet on whether an independent doctor will be present at all three games of the 2018 Holden State of Origin series
  • In 90 percent of concussion cases, players are fully healed within 10 to 14 days
  • The NRL is considering plans to have 'spotters' at NRL games
  • From 2019, every NRL club will have an assistant medical officer, so two doctors at matches

Spotters are already used at NFL and NHL matches in the United States.

"It is something we have trialled so we'll continue to look into it," Bloomfield said Wednesday.

"We're looking at more and more tools to support the club doctors. In some international codes like NFL and NHL they have them but the ultimate decision to return a player ultimately lies with the club doctor.

"But both codes have spotters ... or at least they are called 'athletic trainers' in the US. They are people with a tertiary degree in some kind of sports science and are also accredited by their sports."

The NRL trialled spotters in the 2017 Origin series. There is no definitive data they picked up concussion symptoms the NSW and Queensland team doctors didn't.

"It was hard to know because as soon as they spotted it the doctors were alerted to it. They were in contact with officials on the sideline who communicated it to [Qld/NSW] team doctors," Bloomfield said.

Gold Coast forward Will Matthews.
Gold Coast forward Will Matthews. ©NRL Photos

"It's not just the logistics of it but we need to look into whether spotters could pick up more than is already being picked up by doctors."

Turning to assistant doctors, Bloomfield said "several" NRL clubs already employ them. But it will be mandatory for all 16 clubs from 2019.

"If the doctor is inside doing something, then there's another on the sideline,'' he said.

"Because concussion is a difficult and complex thing, the team doctor will then have the opportunity to discuss it with somebody who also knows the players well.

"It's like a pilot and co-pilot scenario, so if the pilot wants a second opinion, they've got someone there ready and prepared to talk to them."

On the subject of having independent doctors, Bloomfield said a recent worldwide rugby union study showed the team doctor was more conservative with returning players after a head knock, than the independent doctors.

"The independent doctors at rugby are only at international games and Super Rugby level," Bloomfield said.

"It's not saying the independent doctors are making bad decisions, but that the team doctor knew the players better, or at least recognised subtle changes quicker."