Plan to cut interchange as injury toll rocks NRL
NRL boss Todd Greenberg has confirmed the NRL is considering reducing the interchange for the second time in two years to keep pace with the changing pace of the sport.
The NRL competition committee will meet on Friday and their agenda will include a discussion to drop the interchange from eight to six.
It comes as the NRL considers the possibility that high impact injuries are connected to the speed of the game as players continue to get fitter and bigger.
Already 12 players have had their season's ended throughout the first nine rounds.
Last year it was nine.
Round 10 will see 74 players across the NRL sidelined with injury.
"There is an appetite to bring the interchange down again and there are some polarising opinions on it," Greenberg said.
"That will be on the agenda for the competition committee who get together at the end of this week.
"It will also be on the coaches agenda."
While coaches have traditionally opposed any reduction in interchange, the medical figures might change their mind.
In 2016, when clubs were permitted 10 interchanges a game, which lessened fatigue, a total of 975 games was missed through injury across the NRL. The season before it was 1018 games.
Last season when the interchange dropped to eight the total games missed were reduced to 813, or an average of 73.6 players missing per round.
As NSW State of Origin doctor Nathan Gibbs said: "The best players are why you watch the game so you don't want them to get hurt, you want them on the field.
"Everyone has a vested interest in them not getting injured."
Gibbs was the club doctor at the Sydney Swans when the AFL's injury data revealed a disturbing increase in high impact injuries.
"They often look at trending injuries and they will make rule changes based on what they have found over a consistent period of time," he said.
"They change quite a few of the rules to increase fatigue and stop high speed injuries."
Some of the high impact injuries this season make for horrific reading.
Tim Browne's internal injuries were such that doctors described it as like he was in a motorcycle accident.
Browne retired from Penrith after six centimetres of bowel was removed.
Matt Gillett played three weeks with a neck fracture that, once discovered, sidelined him for eight weeks.
Josh Mansour had three specialists in his operating theatre as his face was peeled down onto his chest and his cheekbone was surgically repaired.
As well as the possibility of improving player welfare Greenberg was also pleased with the improving aesthetics of the game when fatigue became a bigger element across the 80 minutes.
Most experts agreed the game improved considerably when interchange dropped from 10 to eight and fatigue became a factor with tiring defences.
The competition committee is made up of Greenberg, current coaches Ivan Cleary and Paul Green, Australian coach Mal Meninga and captain Cameron Smith, former coach John Lang, former Australian captain Darren Lockyer, NRL head of football Brian Canavan, Jillaroos captain Ruan Sims, referees boss Bernie Sutton and several NRL officials.
"At the end of the year we will review the numbers around interchange," Greenberg said.
"We said when we brought it in we will give it two years before we look at it again."
Coaches are naturally opposed to reducing interchange because fatigue increases errors.
They initially argued against a reduction in interchange, declaring it would take several years to condition players to play more minutes.
The absurdity of that was exposed this summer when Sam Kasiano stripped from 136kg to 126kg after moving from Canterbury to Melbourne.