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'Light to variable': Injury and selection misinformation raises integrity issues

The NRL may be forced to introduce NFL-style injury reporting if coaches continue to play ducks and drakes about the availability of star players and their line-ups for matches.

Trent Robinson (Roosters), Craig Bellamy (Storm) and Stephen Kearney (Warriors) were accused of misleading the media and fans with their responses to questions about team selections for Anzac Day matches – and it appears to be a growing trend since the Cooper Cronk grand final cover-up.

Manly coach Des Hasler took injury reporting in the NRL to a new level earlier this season when the club issued a media release that sounded more like a weather forecast as it advised the anticipated recovery for Tom Trbojevic’s hamstring tear was "light to variable".

The NFL has a nine-page Personnel Injury Report Policy requiring teams to provide "full and complete" information about player availability in practice reports, game status reports and in-game injury reports.

The information must be "credible, accurate, timely and specific", and breaches can result in fines, suspensions and the forfeiture of draft choices.

The NBA introduced new rules for injury reporting this season after it emerged that a hand injury suffered by LeBron James in the opening game of the 2018 finals series was far more serious than had been reported by Cleveland Cavaliers, who were swept 4-0 by Golden State Warriors.

Match Highlights: Storm v Warriors

The actions of the Cavaliers – and the lengths they went to – in order to cover up their franchise star's broken hand are comparable to that of the Roosters in the lead-up to last year’s grand final, with the club reporting in a media release: "Scans have revealed that Cronk sustained a severe left rotator cuff injury."

There were contrasting views within the NRL and across the game about whether the ruse had been clever or damaging to the integrity of the game after the Roosters revealed Cronk had played with a broken scapula.

The latest cover-ups by coaches have not raised any formal discussions at League Central about policy changes but officials are keeping an eye on developments and may act if it becomes a regular occurrence.

Robinson admitted after Thursday’s 20-10 defeat of St George Illawarra that he had always intended to start Lachlan Lam at five-eighth.

On Wednesday at a media conference he had said Latrell Mitchell would play the pivot's role with Mitchell Aubusson at centre.

Aubusson, who was named in the No.7 jersey for Cronk in last year's grand final, started in the second row against the Dragons - the fifth time this season he has moved from the position he was selected. 

Bellamy also admitted after Melbourne’s 13-12 win over the Warriors that he hadn’t been forthcoming to the media about the decision to drop centre Curtis Scott and replace him with Marion Seve when asked if he had "any thought about changing centres".  

"I didn’t tell a lie yesterday but I probably didn’t tell exactly how it was going to be," Bellamy said.

However, Kearney insisted he had not misled reporters when he denied a report on Tuesday that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was set to miss the Storm match due to a hamstring injury – only for the Warriors captain to be ruled out the following day.  

"There was no shenanigans on our part. If you ask Roger he was adamant that he was going to play," Kearney said. "We trained on Monday and he completed training. Then after the captains run he didn’t pull up so well, so we didn’t want to take the risk."

There was similar confusion before the Roosters match against Brisbane when Robinson said prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves would play but he was later ruled out with a rib cartilage injury from the previous weekend. 

Match Highlights: Roosters v Dragons

Coaches were under no obligation to provide accurate information until the NRL introduced changes to the team announcement policy in 2017, requiring clubs to name a 21-man squad each Tuesday, 19 players 24 hours before their match and a final 17-man line-up 60 minutes before kick-off.

The stated aim of the change was to improve the accuracy of player information, including correct positional data, and to limit any potential integrity risks to the game through an improved team announcement procedure.

In previous seasons, betting markets would go into a spin over speculation that a big-name star such as Johnathan Thurston or Andrew Johns was going to be ruled out or make an earlier than anticipated return from injury as clubs could change their squads until 60 minutes before kick-off.

Long-serving journalist Steve Mascord was renowned for phoning coaches with information about team changes and quoting their denials in his Late Mail column. One coach eventually instructed Mascord not to call because he was being made to look bad when the changes occurred.

If the NRL considers further changes to the team announcement policy it is likely to move closer to the NFL’s personnel injury report policy, which requires clubs to provide an accurate description of a player’s injury status, how much he participated in practice and categorise him as out, doubtful or questionable.

The policy cites the example of a club’s quarterback suffering an injury to a finger of his right (throwing) hand. After treatment, he is able to finish the game despite his injury.

"Given the injury’s effect upon the player’s performance, and the fact that he is a key player, the injury must be listed on the club’s Practice Report each day of the following week, even if the player takes all the reps in practice, and even if the club is certain that he will play in the club’s next game."

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

Melbourne Storm: Round 7

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