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NRL concussion: James Graham changes tune on head knocks

James Graham after being knocked out against the Roosters in 2015. Picture: Getty ImagesBulldogs captain James Graham says players will continue to be frustrated when they are forced from the field with head knocksbut believes the NRL should be laudedfor trying to protect them from themselves.
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The handling of concussions is a major talking point after James McManus began legal action against former club Newcastlefor allegedly breaching its duty of care to him in a series of incidents.

Graham has been a vocal critic of the NRL’s concussion protocols, believing players rather than club medicos are in the best position to make a call on whether they return to the fray. The English international said in March 2015: “Why does a doctor tell me I can’t go back on? Why can’t that be my choice?”

But he has been reading the latest medical and scientific literature and evolving his perspectives on concussion. Hesaid much of the research was ambiguous and incomplete, but the NRL should be praised for protecting players whose instinct was to stay onthe field.

He said players “possibly” needed to be protected from themselves.

“Fundamentally I support the NRL’s stance on it and the protocols that are in place now, but I would like to see certain aspects of it improve in terms of the testing to get back on,” he said.

Some experts have publicly urgedhead office to appoint independent doctors to screen concussed players, but Graham said it could be difficult for unfamiliar doctors to tell if a player was behaving unusually.

“One of the things with concussion is the personality change,”Graham said. “So if you’ve got an independent doctor who has no relationship with that player, how are they going to make a judgement call on if their personality has changed?

“The doctor at the Bulldogs, I have a good relationship with. He knows my personality, so I think he can make a call more on that than, ‘Can you balance on one foot for 20 seconds [with your eyes closed]?’I couldn’t do that [now].”

In a quest to garner more data on concussions, the UKRugbyHealthproject, led by Leeds Beckett University, is expanding to . Concussion researchers includingHeadsafefounder Dr Adrian Cohen are encouraging retired players to become part of the research project.

“The long-term effects of participation in sport need to be understood and acknowledged in order that we can care for players today and into the future,”Dr Cohen said.

Graham said there were many grey areas when it came to research into grey matter.

“There is so much we don’t know about concussion,” Graham said. “Someone will see that movie with Will Smith in it and they all of a sudden become an expert on concussion when a lot of facts in that movie [are in dispute].

“Not many people know about the genetic side of being predisposed to concussions, so it’s hard to label everyone the same. It’s not black and white, concussion.I personally don’t believe it’s as easy as that.

“Having said that, you’ve got to have safety first, otherwise you’re going down a slippery slope. What’s good for the goose is not necessarily what is good for the gander. You have to protect all the players.

“I’d like to see it case by case, but I don’t think it’s as easy as that. It’s a very difficult subject for people to tackle.It’s a difficult situation to get right when the stakes are so high.

“We all know about the recent press about Canterbury and the stakes and the pressure that brings. Then you have a player who may or not be concussed.

“If you bring in certain protocols that stop certain things happening, that’s got to be a good thing.”

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