A prominent spinal specialist says parents should not allow their children to play rugby league until the code bans the gang tackle that left Newcastle Knight’s player Alex McKinnon facing quadriplegia.
Dr John Yeo from Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital was part of the campaign in the 1980s that led to changes to scrum rules in rugby union.
Now he is pushing for a change in rugby league that would ban tackles involving more than two defenders – such as the one that saw McKinnon left with a broken neck and a serious spinal injury.
“Rugby league is, by allowing the multiple tackle, allowing an unacceptable risk to players – both adult and in children,” Dr Yeo said.
“I would say, ‘Look, find another team sport until I was satisfied that the rules themselves were protecting the player – the young player particularly’.
“The multiple tackle to me is too dangerous for people to play, particularly when they reach their teens and later.
“When that’s changed, then I would encourage young people to move on into the senior game and play the game and enjoy it, but only when the rule is changed.”
Dr Yeo said while there is some sympathy within the NRL for change, there is also resistance.
“Coaches don’t seem to grasp the importance of part of our anatomy [that] is not built for the sort of forces that we’re allowing it to be applied. So I’ve written and said this has got to stop,” he said.
The NRL declined Lateline’s request to interview the code’s chief medical officer, but said injuries like McKinnon’s are rare.
“The NRL this year modified rules for when a third defender joins a tackle but the concept of banning more than two players from a tackle is not one we are considering,” it said in a statement.
Push to ban lifting tackles
McKinnon’s plight has also renewed a push from doctors to have lifting tackles banned in all sporting codes.
Dr Peter Larkins, a former Sports Medicine Australia president, says rugby league needs to take particular notice.
“Lifting a player off the ground and inverting them is really what we’re on about as the dangerous tackle,” he said
“It just doesn’t happen in other sports except rugby, so it’s clearly one the rugby league needs to look at.”
Dr Larkins says the injuries – fractures to the C4 and C5 vertebrae – are consistent with quadriplegia, but it is too early to determine a final outcome.
“If [McKinnon] has a form of quadriplegia obviously it’s going to be a long, long journey in terms of him getting back to functioning in day-to-day activities,” he said.
“Generally these cases require rehabilitation and hospital-based treatment for two to three months.”
The Newcastle Knights and McKinnon’s family have rejected unconfirmed reports he may never walk again.
They say it is too early to tell and that the young player is a fighter.