Stevie Ward reaction - Leeds Rhinos form brains trust in bid to boost player welfare

Leeds Rhinos have teamed up with students and academics to investigate the impact game-day collisions have on Betfred Super League players.
Stevie Ward at Headingley last January. Picture by Steve Riding.Stevie Ward at Headingley last January. Picture by Steve Riding.
Stevie Ward at Headingley last January. Picture by Steve Riding.

Former Rhinos captain Stevie Ward has announced his retirement, aged just 27, after a head injury limited him to only one appearance last season.

The implications of concussions on players’ health is a growing concern in both codes of rugby.

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Rhinos were left reeling last year when former half-back Rob Burrow was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MNDS), though a link with his playing career has not been confirmed.

Since last season, five PhD students and four academic staff from Leeds Beckett University have been working within Rhinos on a daily basis while undertaking scientific research.

The team is led by professor Ben Jones, Rhinos’ pathway performance director and head of performance (England Performance Unit) at the Rugby Football League.

Rhinos and the Beckett University team collaborated with University of Leeds and the Prevent Biometrics mouthguard technology company to measure ‘player collision events and direct head impacts’ during Super League matches and training during 2020

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The project is led by Dr Dan Weaving (Leeds Beckett University and Leeds Rhinos) and Dr Greg Tierney (University of Leeds).

Jones said: “Rugby League has always been a sport that is open to research and change to improve both the performance and wellbeing of players.

“We all recognise rugby league is tough and players train hard week in week out, to perform at their best.

“We also appreciate the sacrifices players make and that injuries do happen.

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“There is a huge amount of research ongoing across rugby league looking to monitor the load players are exposed to, related to collisions in general, but more specifically head collisions.

“Everyone recognises it is a fine balance between ensuring players are at their best both physically and mentally to perform in a match, while also making sure players find that balance in the week to recover.”

The Prevent Biometrics mouthguards are fitted with a number of sensors which can measure head acceleration and impact location during collisions.

The team have been working to determine the accuracy of the mouthguard data, to measure collision events and direct contact with the head by assessing the data against video footage.

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The results of this work have shown the mouthguards are accurate for measuring head impacts and collision events during rugby league matches.

Rhinos say work will continue during the 2021 season to “better understand the collision and impact events experienced by players during Super League matches and the potential factors that influence them”.

A statement from the club said: “This will help develop the understanding of the collisions, head accelerations that players experience and help players both prepare for them, while limiting unnecessary exposure.

“In future, this data can be received by medical staff in real-time via a mobile application and has the potential as a useful tool in the understanding and management of head impacts and concussion, alongside established methods such as the head injury assessment (HIA) tool.”

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The project builds on two research studies, published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, which were undertaken by Weaving and his team, in collaboration with Dr Rich Johnston from Australia Catholic University.

Jones added: “The work Dan, Greg and the team at Prevent Biometrics are doing is really important to not only the club, but also rugby league as a game.

“We recognise we need to understand the collisions players are exposed to, and this is an example of a study which will help us do that.”

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