DIFFERENT coach, different management. Same dilemma for the Newcastle Knights.
As rugby league fans wait anxiously for news about Kalyn Ponga's prognosis, mistakes from a bygone era come flooding back to mind.
It's hard to imagine there is a club in the NRL with a more dubious track record of dealing with the issue of concussion than the Knights.
I was at Brookvale Oval in 2011, when fearless Newcastle forward Richie Fa'aoso reeled out of an attempted tackle, fell over several times as he staggered around like a drunken sailor, and yet was allowed to play on. After he was eventually replaced, he returned to the fray as a second-half replacement.
Then Knights coach Rick Stone explained at the post-match press conference: "Richie can look untidy when he gets knocked out, but he comes to fairly quickly.
"Sometimes giving a bloke a couple of minutes to clear his head doesn't look good on TV but ... I wanted to give him a minute or two to reassess where he was at."
The images were so confronting that within days the NRL moved to introduce new, more stringent concussion protocols. Fa'aoso, nonetheless, backed up to play a week later.
Four years down the track, in what coincidentally would be Stone's last match as a head NRL coach, Knights winger James McManus suffered a brutal head knock against South Sydney that would not just end his career, but change his life forever.
McManus subsequently sued the Knights, alleging that in his final season he had been concussed seven times in less than five months, either during games or at training, suffering a "tramuatic brain injury" in the process.
His landmark law suit was eventually settled out of court - after which the NRL declared "this long-running matter has been resolved in the Knights' favour" - but not before harrowing evidence emerged, including revelations that McManus had been left with a range of issues including impaired cognitive function, impaired memory, anxiety, lethargy, sleep disturbance, depression and the risk of long-term dementia. One document filed on his behalf estimated that the former NSW Origin representative had a life expectancy of just 53.22 years.
Within weeks of McManus launching his unprecedented legal action, the Knights were back in the spotlight when fullback Brendan Elliot was allowed to play on after being knocked senseless in a 2017 match against the Rabbitohs, prompting widespread criticism and a $100,000 fine ($50,000 suspended) from the NRL.
All of which, as stated previously, occurred on the watch of previous Newcastle officials and coaches.
Now we wait to learn if Ponga, the highest-paid player in the club's history, becomes the latest chapter in a tale of woe. Five times this year, Ponga has required a head-injury assessment. At least 10 times in the past four seasons.
Yet the only game he has missed after an HIA was Newcastle's recent clash with Gold Coast. On that occasion, he was ruled out because of a mandatory NRL stand-down policy, and the Knights were far from happy.
Consistently the Knights have maintained that Ponga has passed all his protocols, is suffering no lingering symptoms, and has been cleared to play by neurological experts. Fair enough. While Ponga has left the field numerous times for HIAs, none have been after textbook knockouts that required him to be carried from the field on a medicab.
Yet there seems plenty of anecdotal evidence that the effects of concussions are cumulative. Small knocks, in other words, can eventually create big problems.
The bottom line would appear to be that, with hindsight, there has been no shortage of warning signs, yet only now is it apparent that the Knights might have an unthinkable outcome on their hands.
Hoping for the best, unfortunately, is no safeguard against the worst-case scenario potentially unfolding.
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