James Graham calls on coaches to be the catalyst for change in the NRL’s ongoing concussion battle

James Graham has called for coaches to take on greater responsibility around head injuries and start protecting their players more by speaking to them about the potential severity of concussions.

“I think it’s really important we get the coaches on board,” Graham said on SEN’s The Run Home.

“It’s such a complex issue because we’re dealing with a very highly motivated group of people. I can understand why some would want to continue on.

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“Why do we do what we do? Why do we expose ourselves to so much risk and put our bodies on the line? It’s for our teammates and our coaches.

“It’s hard for our teammates to stand up there and tell us what to do, but I think that the people who we listen to the most are coaches.

“So, they’re the people, I believe, that need to deliver the message.”

Concussion has been a major topic of discussion throughout the season and especially so in the past few weeks, where Cameron Murray and Mitchell Moses have both failed HIA’s, before returning to play a week later.

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It has sparked talk about introducing a one-week mandatory suspension for such circumstances, with new protocols high on the agenda of the Rugby League Players Association in the off-season. 

Graham claimed players needed more education around the issue of concussions, with symptoms often being overlooked when they sought to remain or return to the field of play as quickly as possible. 

“Being in one of those rooms at your club, you get a lecture from a medical professional and I don’t know how seriously you’re going to take it,” Graham conceded.

“But if that’s your coach delivering the message and telling you that you’re going to be detrimental to the cause, if you’re under a suspected concussion, you’re more likely to treat it with the severity that it deserves.

“The message is going to resonate more if it comes from the coach.”

The former Canterbury and St George star explained how players suffering concussions is not necessarily just restricted to game day, with alterations to training regimes at the forefront of possible change.

“Luke Keary brought it up- the number of collisions we are made to do or were made to do in training,” he said.

“The NFL have set a really good example for that where it’s limited amount of contact sessions per season and they only go for a certain period of time.

“This is all regulations by the NFL’s union. I think that’s where we are going and what we need to do.”

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However, Graham acknowledged that altering training practices across the NRL could be met with resistance.

“It needs to be fair, because we all know that coaches are always looking for that competitive advantage by doing more training and practice work,” he said.

“But if they’re involved and realise that they don’t need all these contact sessions then I think that’d really reduce the degenerative brain issues that may come.”

In such an intense, physical game it will be impossible to completely eradicate concussions. Although Graham believed that with more measures in place to protect players, as well as head coaches lowering workloads in training, then a reduction in total cases could be achieved. 

“The talk is it’s not necessarily about concussion, it’s more about how many collisions you’re exposed to,” he said. 

“So, we can significantly reduce that by just stopping or really limiting the amount of contact in training that we do.

“We need the stakeholders – the coaches – to buy into it and treat it with the respect that it deserves.”

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