By Casey Fung

The Australian Rugby League says measures are in place to ensure junior players’ safety amid ongoing concerns about knocks to the head during matches.

Debate over whether young players are returning to the game too early after being concussed is in the spotlight again.

Some neuro-scientists say they are concerned young players are returning to the field before their brain has fully recovered.

Neuro-scientists are concerned with the dangers of concussions in young rugby players

Sky McDonald, a Professor of neuro-psychology from the University of New South Wales, says the effects of a single concussion can last a life-time.

“It is extremely dangerous,” she says.

“If a person sufferes trauma to their head and they haven’t had time to recover and they have another injury then it can be very diabolical.”

She says players returning to the field after a hit to the head are taking extreme risks, particularly younger players whose brains are still developing.

“It’s very disabling for whoever you are,” she says.

“But if you are a young person and you are still studying or learning skills, it’s going to impact not only on your ongoing life but also on the fact that you cannot actually gain the skills you need.”

Other prominent neuro-scientists and brain surgeons are calling for a ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule’, but Professor McDonald says a single concussion can be one too many.

“I don’t know that the idea of having three strikes is a very good idea because if you have one severe one you probably shouldn’t be going back,” she says.

However, Australian Rugby League spokesman John Brady says all preventative measures are being taken in junior competitions.

“The safe play codes that work through the game and the codes of conduct right through to the senior years mean that there are a lot safe guards in play,” he says.

Mr Brady says other sports and activities have just as much incidence of concussion.

“The rates of concussive episodes in junior league compare very much with those of sports such as AFL and soccer and any past-time in fact that is going to be actively involving children,” he says.

Researchers in the US who tested American Football players were alarmed at the serious effects concussions were having on young athletes, particularly seeing serious brain damage during post-mortem.

Many had serious depression with some dying under the age of 25.

Australian specialists say a brain-bank similar to the one established in the US should also be set up here.