NRL defends decision to place doctors in bunker instead of on the sideline

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The NRL has rejected claims that its independent doctor cannot get a feel for the game while in the bunker, reminding coaches that a response to a head knock is not a football decision.

Michael Maguire became the latest mentor to question the NRL’s new process on Sunday, claiming confusion in Wests Tigers’ loss to Newcastle.

Under the system, spotters sit inside the bunker and mark potential knocks to the head while watching various live angles.

An independent doctor closely reviews a players’ response to any marked incidents before communicating to the referee if they need to be taken from the field and assessed for concussion.


The process saw both Victor Radley and Billy Smith ruled out of games in the opening round, despite both Sydney Roosters players claiming they had not suffered a head injury.

Tigers winger David Nofoaluma also claimed he did not know why he was being removed on Sunday, before passing a head injury assessment and later returning.


The incident prompted Maguire to question if having a doctor away from the ground was the right process.

“You have someone who is not here getting a feel for what is going on,” Maguire said.

“Those things need to be sorted out. It definitely needs to be looked at.”

But the NRL’s head of football stressed on Monday the feel of the game mattered little in assessing head knocks.

He also pointed out independent doctors were now in a better space to assess reaction to knocks, rather than club doctors viewing a screen on the sideline among the elements and noise of the game.

“These are not football decisions … you don’t need a feel for the game,” Annesley said.

Replays suggested the issue the bunker was concerned about on Nofoaluma came from contact with Lachlan Fitzgibbon’s shoulder.

It is understood that was assessed by the match review committee on Monday, but did not require a charge.

But the bunker does have the power to have players placed on report, sin-binned or sent off if head contact is deemed dangerous.

The NRL has already experienced a string of injuries across its opening rounds.(Getty Images: Mark Kolbe)

Annesley also defended Penrith half Sean O’Sullivan being classified as a category-two HIA rather than a category-one after late contact from Jaydn Su’A.

Annesley said O’Sullivan had been having a neck injury assessed when he stayed down, rather than showing ill-effects from the hit.

It meant he was not automatically ruled out of the match, and was able to return after 15 minutes when he passed his HIA.

Annesley also indicated he was OK with the call for Su’A to be sin-binned for the contact.


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