After a successful pilot study in 2021, the RFL is preparing to launch a game-wide three-year research project to quantify head impact and acceleration exposures in the sport with the aim of increasing understanding and reducing future risk.
All 12 Betfred Super League clubs are committed to working with the RFL and researchers at Leeds Beckett University on the TaCKLE project – Tackle and Contact Kinematics, Load and Exposure – in addition to teams from the Betfred Women’s Super League, the Under-18s Academy competition, and Open Age, Under-16s and Under-14s teams from the Community game.
That will give a total of more than 1,000 players the opportunity to wear instrumented mouthguards which will be used to measure head impact exposures, biomechanical mechanisms during concussion events, and how tackle technique and tackle height influence head acceleration loading.
“The pilot study for the TaCKLE project was the most comprehensive validity study completed in the world. The study generated the data we needed to measure the effectiveness and accuracy of a range of instrumented mouthguards,” explains Professor Ben Jones, the lead researcher from Leeds Beckett and the Strategic Lead for Performance and Research in the RFL’s England Performance Unit.
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“We are now ready to begin the three-year research project, as we approach the start of the Betfred Super League season next month – with the Women’s Super League, the Academy and the Community competitions to kick off slightly later.
“We are working closely with other sports who also recognise the importance of research in this area, and are interested in the project, largely because we will be monitoring both male and female players from different sections of Rugby League.
“It’s important to put on record our gratitude to the clubs, and the players, for their support of this project.”
The RFL Board have also accepted a recommendation from the sport’s Clinical Advisory Group to amend the Graduated Return to Play protocols following concussion events, which will mean any players who fail a concussion test during matches or training will not be permitted to play in another match for a minimum of 11 days – with their readiness for all stages of the Graduated Return to Play to be monitored by medical specialists, as has previously been the case.
Sentencing guidelines for on-field foul play in the 2022 season have also been amended, with a further stiffening of sentences for striking, headbutting, kicking and late hits – all with the intention of providing further disincentive to dangerous play, and further protection to all players.
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Robert Hicks, the RFL’s Director of Operations and Legal, said:
“Given the priority of player welfare, Rugby League continues to seek both to respond to increases in medical knowledge, and to provide relevant information.
“The TaCKLE project is an example of the latter, and working with Leeds Beckett University we hope it will produce data of significant value to Rugby League and beyond.
“We are also fortunate to be able to call on the knowledge of a number of medical experts on our Clinical Advisory Group, which has led to a number of amendments to sentencing guidelines in recent years, and now a change in the Gradual Return to Play protocols.
“Our priority as a sport will always be to protect players and make the game as safe as possible, working with all relevant stakeholders and including Government through the DCMS Committee. These initiatives will further strengthen this.”