Concussion changes get support from local clubs (and parents)

SUPPORT: Manly Brothers U12 Rugby League team. Picture: Geoff Jones
SUPPORT: Manly Brothers U12 Rugby League team. Picture: Geoff Jones

IF Peter V'landys needed confirmation he's on the right track with the NRL's crackdown on contact with the head, he might want to join Mandy Herring next time she catches up with girlfriends for coffee.

The Seaforth mum has watched three sons play rugby league from the age of four and constantly finds herself defending the game against claims it's too violent and not enough is done to protect players from high tackles.

It's this perception V'landys, the Australian Rugby League chairman, is fighting to change to ensure the game has enough participants to continue well into the future, while also avoiding costly legal fights down the track from ex-players impacted by the effects of concussion.

POSITIVE: Mandy Herring with sons Brodie, TJ and Darcy and, left, Manly junior League action.

POSITIVE: Mandy Herring with sons Brodie, TJ and Darcy and, left, Manly junior League action.

Just last week Canterbury and NSW legend Steve Mortimer revealed he had early onset dementia, possibly brought about by consistent head knocks.

"I have mums all the time say 'I can't believe your kids play football. I don't know how you do it, how do you watch?' " Mandy said. "It wouldn't matter if I screamed how safe it is from the rooftops, I'd lose the argument every time. There are kids wanting to play but parents are pushing them away, especially in this area."

Mandy acknowledges the controversy and confusion as a result of the NRL's head contact clampdown, but believes something had to be done. She said: "I am aware of the impact it's had on the game with all the stoppages and send-offs, but as a mother it's a positive move. Anything that's going to reduce head injuries, I'm all for it. It's nothing but a positive for the game."

Kim Hunter has been around rugby league most of his life as a player, coach and now president of the Manly-Warringah Junior Rugby League.

He fully backs the NRL zero tolerance edict but is quick to point out the game you see on TV is not the game you see in our local parks.

"I think they're on the right track. Most people would agree that's a good thing," he said of the NRL's war on head shots. "But it's not really a factor with the kids because we play under different rules to the NRL. We've got player safety codes and precautions and rules the NRL don't have. It's a much different game. For a non-contact sport for non-professionals, it's a pretty safe game to play."

Convincing parents of that is another thing. "A lot of it is perception. A lot of mums and dads might not understand that junior league is different to NRL," Hunter said. "If their perception is improved because they think it's safer - and they're more inclined to let their boy or girl play - then that's a good thing. It might take a while but I think long-term it will help the game grow."

SPIRIT: Manly Brothers U12 Rugby League team. Picture: Geoff Jones

SPIRIT: Manly Brothers U12 Rugby League team. Picture: Geoff Jones

So is Hunter right?

Kids imitate their heroes, so are junior matches full of high shots, sin bins and players feigning injury to draw penalties - like we see in just about every top level game of rugby league?

Your reporter grabbed a sausage roll and can of Coke and watched some junior footy at Nolans Reserve last Saturday.

It's only a small sample size, but you want to know something? The young boys and girls played the game in the right spirit with plenty of ball movement, great defence and not a hint of the cynicism or high tackle drama that's turning many off the NRL.

Danny Angelo, coach of the Manly Brothers under-12 team, told us: "At this level that's what you see every week. It's when they get a few years' older and start hitting rep footy...that's when things change."

Angelo is talking specifically about tackling techniques - the hottest topic in rugby league due to the understandable concerns over head knocks and concussion.

"These kids learn how to tackle around the legs but that's coached out of them when they get older because there is no reward for tackling low," Angelo continued. "The game has to get back to rewarding the old-fashioned low tackle - that's when things will change for the better."

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