The advice every junior is given that could slash NRL head injuries

Defenders are most at risk of needing a head injury assessment, rather than ball carriers, with new research suggesting upright tacklers are more than three times more likely to be taken from the fray.

Debate is raging about the safest and most effective tackling techniques after the NRL continued a crackdown on high shots that began in last week’s Magic Round. Some pundits have slammed the edict, claiming concussions are just as likely to occur when tacklers aim low and are collected by hips and knees.

Tackling techniques have come under scrutiny.Credit:NRL Photos

“Behaviour modification is so challenging when these guys have been doing it at an elite level for a long time and are very good at it,” Gardner said.

“To change what you’re good at is hard to do. And then you’ve got the coaches saying, ‘But if you tackle like that, they’ll get an offload away or they’ll get a quicker play-the-ball.’”

“What we’re trying to do is find evidence that you can still perform well while reducing the risk of a player sustaining … a bump to the head. If you can reduce the risk of getting a direct hit to the head, we can potentially reduce the risk of concussion.”

The NRL has reiterated that head and neck contact will be severely punished, as evidenced by the six charges the match review committee laid following Friday night football. Sharks trio Mawene Hiroti, Josh Dugan and Teig Wilton, and Dragons forward Josh Kerr are facing suspensions.

Kerr is facing one to two weeks out for a shoulder charge, while Hiroti and Wilton could be sidelined for one to two weeks after being charged for a careless high tackle and a crusher, respectively. As of Saturday night, there had been an extraordinary 27 sin bins and three send-offs since the start of the NRL’s crackdown on high tackles and other offences.

Gardner, dual international Timana Tahu and senior biomechanics lecturer Suzi Edwards from the University of Newcastle are working on an evidence-based approach to safer tackling techniques.

Tahu believes the cheek-to-cheek tackling technique taught by many coaches contributes to the spate of concussions.

“We have to go back to the drawing board and start looking at tackling techniques again,” Tahu said.

“You need to look at different variations that can help the sport.

“The players only know to tackle high because that is what the wrestling coaches have taught them. There needs to be more education on it.”

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