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Brainstorm: Eels greats set to follow Sterlo's lead

Three Parramatta Eels legends are considering following in the footsteps of premiership-winning teammate Peter Sterling and donating their brains in the fight to understand more about the degenerative disorder, CTE.

CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and can only be diagnosed in an autopsy.

Research among former NFL players has found a high incidence of CTE – believed to be caused by head knocks, along with other mitigating factors like drugs and alcohol abuse – and this week research revealed two former NRL players had the disorder.

Their identities were not revealed but they played over 150 first grade games.

The findings, published in the neuropathology journal Acta Neuropathologica Communications, prompted former Test halfback and now leading Channel Nine commentator Peter Sterling to say he would donate his brain.

On Friday in Darwin, at a Sportsmen's Lunch hosted by the Eels ahead of Saturday night's NRL game against the Raiders at TIO Stadium, fellow teammates said Sterling's move was causing them to have a serious discussion with their families.

Eels legend Peter Sterling.
Eels legend Peter Sterling. ©NRL Photos

"I need to have a chat to the family, although the ultimate decision will be mine," five-eighth Brett Kenny said.

"But it's probably something you don't think about until the subject becomes very real like it has with the news the past day.

"Really there'd be no harm in doing it because I'm not going to use my brain when I'm gone.

"But it might help make things better for the guys who are the future of rugby league."

Second rower Peter Wynn, who played in the 1982, '83 and '86 grand final wins with Kenny and Sterling said: "There’s plenty of head knocks in my day… plenty to reflect on now.

Eels great Brett Kenny.
Eels great Brett Kenny. ©NRL Photos

"I’ve honestly not really thought about it until now. I just thought it was part of my past. I didn’t realise it was becoming an issue now.

"I’ll have to get home and have a chat to my wife and family and see what they think."

Winger Eric Grothe is fairly certain of signing up to the Australian Brain Bank.

"I’m donating the other organs, so if there’s any benefit from my head, then yeah," Grothe said.

"With what happened in the NFL, duty of care is very important."

Wynn praised the NRL for already rubbing out shoulder charges and spear tackles from the game, and for introducing rigorous concussion protocols in games – HIAs (head injury assessments).

"I played for Parramatta from 1979 to 1990 at the highest level so it’s very important from my point of view as an ex-footballer that they are treating the next generations well," Wynn said.

Eels legend Eric Grothe.
Eels legend Eric Grothe. ©NRL Photos

"They’ve taken out the high tackle to the neck-head from the game. I think that’s a huge thing.

"Playing back in the 1970s and 80s there was a lot of contact to the head so it’s great to see the NRL do what they can to make the game as safe as possible."

A spokesman for the NRL said the League's approach to the management of head injuries was based on global best-practice. 

"The NRL has significantly increased its focus and investment in this area of player safety and will continue as an active participant in the work of the global sport community to advance the understanding and management of head injuries in contact sport," the spokesman said. 

"The findings will be reviewed by the NRL before any further comment is made."

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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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