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Sam Burgess and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

It was a game in early June 1979 at Lang Park and I was playing for a combined Brisbane team to face the touring Great Britain team as one of the warm-up matches to an Ashes Test.

His name was Jim Mills and he was a front rower. And I was knocked out by him behind play.

I remember waking up in the middle of the second half – I was still playing and I kicked a goal, apparently. I just can't remember going into half-time or anything around then. That's the only time I was knocked unconscious in a game.

I have family and friends, who have never played rugby league who experience some memory loss to various degrees. But they've never had a head knock in their lives. Memory loss is so universally mutual that defining rugby league as a cause leading to symptomatic issues later in life is misleading.

In my opinion, rugby league has never been safer.

Yes, we have to be careful but we've already eliminated tackles above the shoulder, contact with the head, shoulders charges, spear tackles – they are a rarity in any game and if they do happen, it means a date with the NRL Judiciary.

That's all been taken out of our game. There are strategic plans about how we engage with our future stars – such as non-contact play and tackle safe programs - so mums and dads feel a lot more confident that rugby league is a great game for their kids to try.

The whole thinking about player safety, player welfare, a safer game, is front and centre. It is a major priority of our game and it is constantly being studied and improved.

At NRL level, the protocols and check systems around concussions are strict. Everyone understands its importance and seriousness – there's no ambiguity with it at all.

The NRL's medical officer is always reviewing the procedures as knowledge around concussions continues to evolve. And now we have two medical 'spotters' in the bunker to provide more sets of eyes for players and club doctors. They can use the technology in the bunker with its multiple cameras to see more angles.

We all know that many of us will get Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s as they are unfortunately part of getting older. Memories start to deteriorate. Sometimes it’s genetics; sometimes it’s other external forces like repeated concussions; and sometimes people in later age have no problems at all.

It is a dangerous call to say that those brain disorders are caused by head knocks because there's no conclusive scientific evidence.

So we've got best-practice when we talk about the identification and treatment of concussion in rugby league. But it doesn't stop there. Several committees within the NRL are always looking at ways to do things better.

Last year there was a three-way action plan – the game was watched from the sidelines on monitors, watched from the grand stand, and watched from the bunker – to determine the best option to identify players, who might be suffering concussion. It was the bunker.

Club doctors make the final call but at least they have more assistance, more expert eyes, on their players.

Games like soccer have head clashes and heavy contact with the ball regularly. You can also walk or cycle down the street and fall and bang your head.

And let's remember that the decisions being made around concussion are taken out of the players' hands.

The reason why people play our game is because they love it, but they also understand the values of it.

It's a combative game; a player displays courage to play; it reveals character; it's competitive. These are traits you need in life in general, but as society demands, the rules are there to protect players from themselves - that's the beauty of rugby league. 

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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