Falcons' chief fears for long-term player health
FALCONS Rugby League Club chairman Ashley Robinson shudders every time a player suffered a head knock.
He's been that way since watching the 2015 US movie Concussion in his hotel room on a rainy night in Cairns.
The documentary highlighted an emerging understanding of the long-term health impacts of concussion and resulting brain injuries among Nation Football League professionals, one that was now firmly at the National Rugby League's front door.
Carolyn Sidaway of Coolum, whose father former New Zealand international Robert Orchard was now under full-time care with Alzheimers on the Sunshine Coast, was angry at the way so many former players and their families were left to deal with the consequences.
Her uncle Phillip Orchard, who played on the wing for New Zealand 21 times and was named in its Hall of Fame, died last year from dementia-related illness.
Carolyn fears for her brothers who all had long league careers and has vowed if she has her way neither her grandson or nephews would play the game.
"They can surf and play golf,” she said.
It has been revealed this week for the first time, that a brain disease linked with repetitive head injury in American sport has been identified in the brains of two former Australian rugby league players.
Using brains donated at death by players researchers at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW Health Pathology and the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre have uncovered evidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in two brains.
"The changes in the two brains were distinctive, definitive, and met consensus diagnostic criteria for CTE,” said lead author Clinical Associate Professor Michael Buckland., the head of the RPA Neuropathology Department and Head of the Molecular Neuropathology Program at the Brain and Mind Centre.
"I have looked at about 1000 brains over the last 10 years, and I have not seen this sort of pathology in any other case before.
"The fact that we have now seen these changes in former rugby league players indicates that they, and likely other Australian collision sports players, are not immune to CTE, a disease that has gained such high profile in the United States.”
The brains had belonged to two, middle-aged former professionals whose careers had spanned more than 150 first grade games.
Mr Robinson said the Head Injury Assessment rules now in place in rugby league should have been introduced a long time ago.
His attitude had shifted from that of his own playing days when he said "I didn't think I was trying if I didn't get knocked out”.
"I have real concerns (about his own health),” Mr Robinson said.
"The Falcons are diligent, but still don't think it's being taken seriously enough.
"I don't understand why players are left on for a couple of tackles after taking a knock. I have no doubt there are a number of people who played the game who now have issues.
"I am very concerned. We're as diligent as we can be as a second-tier footie club. Whenever as chairman I see someone go down it terrifies me.
"Every time I forget myself what I'm doing I think about having been knocked out myself at least 10 times.”
Ms Sidaway said her father's difficulties had begun in his early 50s and reached the point that he had left Murgon heading for the Sunshine Coast but ended up in the Dandenongs in Victoria where he was located by police.
She said a lot of league icons from the 1960s and 70s when there was no concern about concussion now struggled with problems in their old age.