NRL 2023: Paul Kent blasts ‘misguided’ Phil Gould concussion comments, Kalyn Ponga, Steve Mortimer

The NRL 360 panel has hit back at Phil Gould after his comments on Monday night after he called the NRL’s head injury protocols the “greatest abomination perpetrated on our game”.

Several players were taken off the field for head injury assessments by the independent doctor in the Bunker, including Knights star Kalyn Ponga.

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Knights coach Adam O’Brien said of the incident that the NRL were “jumping at shadows to get him out of the game” after he was concussed three times in six weeks.

But Gould, who has been vocal about doctors and lawyers ruining the game blasted the “concussion hysteria” and called the drama “total overkill” on Channel 9’s 100% Footy.

“It’s all about litigation, it’s all about litigation, that’s what it’s about … They’re worried about this tsunami of class action which has been threatening for ages but which never comes, and if it did, I say take them on,” Gould said.

But NRL 360’s Paul Kent has taken aim at Gould’s comments, saying it’s better to err on the side of caution when we still know so little about brain damage from the sport.

“Phil Gould is so misguided on this,” Kent said. “So he says not every bump to the head is a concussion and not every concussion is life threatening. How does he know which is which though? Or are we better off siding on the side of caution?

“The whole point of this brain science we go through now, not just rugby league but competitions around the world, is that nobody knows. We’ve got things that will make you live longer with your heart, things that will make you live longer with strokes but there’s so little about you can’t improve the brain once it’s damaged.

“The fact is not every bump that occurs is a concussion. Absolutely right. But how do you know which ones which? Really, how does he know which ones which?”

Kent said he agreed with Gould’s litigation claim as well, stating players play knowing there’s an “inherent risk” and that the game has done all they can according to best practice.

When Kalyn Ponga was taken off the field for Newcastle with just 12 minutes left after a collision while chasing a loose ball, it didn’t matter the stage of the match or scoreline when it happened.

For the record, the Knights were 14-12 down and 10m out.

“The NRL has not been negligent in anything that is done beyond the natural risks within the game,” Kent began. “But that said, you’re still obligated to protect your players.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Crawley said there were issues in Gould’s own backyard which show why these measures are important.

“For Phil Gould to come out and say what he said, maybe he should look at the Bulldogs’ greatest ever player Steve Mortimer, who I spoke to last year, who has dementia, who spoke at the time about his fears that maybe it has come from concussion,” Crawley said. “He wasn’t sure.

“But if the NRL is trying to put players safety first, why do we want to take chances?”

Kent said the Bulldogs had been good for Mortimer, organising outings such as dinners with former teammates and rivals.

“Phil Gould’s been instrumental in doing that for Steve Mortimer and yet he just pretends that that’s just not even a rugby league problem,” Kent said. “Steve Mortimer was going to end up that way anyway apparently.”

The Telegraph’s David Riccio highlighted Roosters half Luke Keary’s comments earlier on Tuesday, saying players couldn’t be trusted with the head injury assessment (HIA) decisions.

It comes after Canberra coach Ricky Stuart blasted the NRL on the weekend over the independent doctor, saying the NRL and RLPA “don’t trust coaches” to deal with their players over HIAs.

“I think it’s definitely the way to go. It takes it away from the clubs. There’s obviously a designated doctor sitting there just watching that,” Keary said.

“As a player, as much as it’s frustrating sometimes if you think they get it wrong, as a player we appreciate it. Even if we don’t all say it, we appreciate that there’s someone sitting there watching out for us. Some of them are very hard to judge.”

Keary has suffered several serious concussions in recent seasons.

Riccio said the comments showed “maturity and understanding” and that the NRL were doing the right thing to take it out of the players and coaches hands.

Kent argued modern tackling techniques have contributed to the welfare issues as players now tackle higher as to prevent the offload.

Crawley said although there may not be successful legal action, it was an existential question for the NRL to answer.

“There is a threat that doesn’t get on top of this in 10 or 20 years that there won’t be rugby league,” Crawley said.

“We can keep the rusted on fans, as Phil Gould’s speaking to, but you’ve also got to take into account the game’s job is to look after the future and the future is bringing other people to the game.

“And if they see these injuries come out of our game, they won’t want their kids playing.”

Riccio said the Ponga issue showed the NRL cared more about the player than the scoreline.

Former first grader Braith Anasta

“As you get older you have kids and you get past actually playing the game you realise how much life you got to live and how important is look after yourself and the longevity of your mental health as well, Anasta said. “I mean a lot of ex players, they’re dropping like flies. I’ve seen it first-hand.”

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