Concussions are a hot topic in the rugby league world at the moment. Seventy-five former players, including former Great Britain star Bobbie Goulding, are heading up a legal claim against the Rugby Football League.
The claim is based on head injuries and what they believe is a failure from the RFL to protect them during their playing days. They believe the game’s governing body didn’t provide necessary protocols to prevent brain injuries like dementia and Alzheimer’s late in life.
An ex-pro not unfamiliar with head injuries is former Bradford Bulls, Wigan Warriros and Great Britain forward Stuart Fielden.
Fielden was on the receiving end of one of the most talked about blows in modern rugby league history, when he was punched by Australia’s Willie Mason during the 2006 Tri-Nations.
Despite clearly being knocked out and suffering from concussion, Fielden wasn’t taken from the field and, reflecting on the incident now, he has no doubt that was the wrong decision.
“In the game against Willie Mason, I got knocked out and I played on for 40 minutes,” Fielden told Serious About Rugby League. “He gave me that cheap hit early on and I have no recollection of the rest of game.
“I must have played on basically unconscious. I can’t remember that game and it was obviously a high-level head injury because I have no memory of it.
“Obviously I should have come off, but I didn’t. I have no idea how I played on but I did and we won.”
Fielden was never far from the thick of the action both on the international stage and in Super League, with his reputation seeing him become a target for opposition forwards.
Elaborating on his experiences with head injuries and the protocols in place when he played, Fielden admits he is suffering the after effects of those blows today.
“Overall I think I have been knocked out about 20 or 30 times,” Fielden revealed. “Then they brought in all the concussion protocols as they try to progress but the honest bit is there is no way to avoid it in rugby league because it is a collision sport.
“I can remember 10 years or so back Jon Wilkin was heading up a union and we were speaking to legal people then about addressing these sorts of areas.
“I have been knocked out loads and I have no doubts there has been a knock on from that even now because every tackle, hit or collision is like a mini car crash.”
Despite this, Fielden has no involvement in the legal case and admits that many of his ex-teammates suffering with head knocks would still do everything and anything to play.
“I can’t really comment on this legal case against the RFL because I don’t know enough about it,” Fielden added.
“You have to look at that duty of care and I guess they have to prove that these brain injuries, dementia and Alzheimer’s, are a result of playing and head injuries.
“You don’t really think about the head injuries and long-term effects when you are playing, because all you want to do is play.
“Players back when I was playing would try to swerve the head test and all the players that have issues now, it is tough, but I still think they would have played.
“I can’t speak for those who are part of the legal claim but I still think they would have all played the game, but it is down to those protocols when they did play I guess.”