Feb 13 2000 Mark Geyer (ball) during Bulldogs vs Penrith NRL game at Stadium Australia, /Homebush. PicRoy/Haverkamp. / Rugby / League A/CT sport action
Feb 13 2000 Mark Geyer (ball) during Bulldogs vs Penrith NRL game at Stadium Australia, /Homebush. PicRoy/Haverkamp. / Rugby / League A/CT sport action

How to save rugby league from itself

It was never the opening minutes of a game that worried Mark Geyer.

No the 'ol softening up period, it held the reasons why he played.

"And why," laughs one of the hardest men to ever raise a bumper bar, "you'd find me whistling in the sheds before games".

But the last minutes of each half?

"That's when I'd be sh***ing myself," Geyer continues. "Because the little halves, the guys like Alfie Langer, Ricky Stuart, Geoff Toovey, I'd actually see them start looking at me off from the other side of the ruck.

"And when that happened, when I knew they were going to start running at me because I was tired … that's when I'd start to worry."

Only a day after The Daily Telegraph asked 'Is Rugby League Too Tough', some of the code's greats are once again calling on the NRL to immediately reduce interchange numbers from eight to six - and eventually four.

According to the Penrith great Geyer, such changes won't only free up playmakers in the closing stages of each half - and thereby "make the NRL more entertaining" - but also reduce the chance of injury as forwards slim down to survive bigger minutes.

"If we reduce the interchange, positive change will be immediate," Geyer says. "Go to six initially, then four.

"It'll bring the playmakers back into the contest.

"It's a subtle change to the rules that will have huge benefits. Rugby league was never supposed to be about the biggest guy prevailing."

Not that Geyer wants heavyweight contacts out of the game entirely.

"Because collisions are why rugby league rates," the NSW Origin legend continues. "And why it's considered The Greatest Game of All.

"But the debate that's been started, it's a good one.

"Has rugby league ever been tougher? Probably not.

"And the statistics don't lie.

"With players getting bigger, stronger and faster, the collisions are going to be bigger.

"But the NRL is also significantly safer now given all of the shit that's been taken out of the game too. I mean, that picture of Blake Ferguson you ran on Thursday's backpage, there was a time when every forward used to finish a game looking like that."

Geyer was one of the game’s toughest customers.
Geyer was one of the game’s toughest customers.

Matty Johns agreed with Geyer's assesment and believes reducing interchange is a must if the game is to survive.

"When you have players getting bigger, stronger and more powerful combined with the speed and the 10m rule, you're getting big collisions," Johns said.

"The more explosive the game gets the more we're going to have injuries. Fatigue injuries aren't as bad as explosive injuries.

"So I'm a big advocate of reducing the interchange.

"When you've got big, strong fast blokes charging at each other and no-one's getting tired … that's the problem."

While 65 first grade players are currently sidelined with injury, figures released by the NRL show that number is in line with the previous five years of competition.

In 2017, there were a total of 660 injuries for the season. In 2018, 662.

 

Nene MacDonald suffered a sickening ankle injury. Picture: Getty
Nene MacDonald suffered a sickening ankle injury. Picture: Getty

 

Elsewhere, Brisbane physiotherapist Brien Seeney - aka NRL Physio - also confirms that global research, especially in rugby union, is suggesting bigger, stronger and faster athletes means "increased impacts … and therefore increased injury severity".

Seeney added that a variety of other advancements, right down to the boots players wear, were also having an impact on injury numbers.

"Lighter, gripper boots means players can move better, turn on a dime," he said. "But that also increases the risk of injury.

"So it becomes a case of increased performance versus increased injury risk. And how many players do you think will want to wear the old boots?"

News Corp Australia


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