The Last Post

The person who decided to put four steel posts into the ground on a field where athletes play full body contact sport with little protection apart from a mouthguard must have had a sadistic streak. Despite all the intrinsic dangers of a high impact sport it was deemed sensible and necessary to make the degree of difficulty even higher.

Workplace health and safety issues have slowly crept into the arena of professional sports. Rugby League has seen a few changes to procedures such as the introduction of the blood bin rule, the head bin and the drinks break on particularly hot days. However, the general culture of toughness results in an atmosphere of ignorance and ?She?ll be right mate?. Most games have examples of poor regard for safety issues such as players that have been knocked unconscious being allowed to continue playing and trainers moping up blood with an ungloved hand.

In order to give this essay some validation I will review some actual incidents involving goal posts. In 1987, Mal Meninga broke his arm with a sickening collision with a goal post in a match against Manly at Seiffert Oval. The injury threatened to cut short his magnificent career. Another Raiders player James Evans suffered an horrific knee injury in 2002 after colliding with a goal post whilst crossing the try-line. The impact resulted in three ruptured knee ligaments and a dislocated knee-cap. What followed was fourteen months of intensive rehabilitation. Evans has recently walked away from the game citing the incident and the resulting trauma as a contributing factor in his decision to quit the game. In the 2004 ANZAC Test against New Zealand in Newcastle Australian captain Darren Lockyer had a stomach-churning collision with a goal post late in the game and was lucky not to be seriously injured.

In the United Kingdom a Halton Hornets players broke his right leg in three places after colliding with a goal post. The player successfully sued the club for damages. He suffered the injury as he dived for a try and was tackled and went crashing into the posts. It must be said that in this case the posts were not padded. But similar injuries can still occur despite the presence of padding.

Under the Tort of Negligence, a breach has occurred if it is reasonably foreseeable that harm could occur but nothing was done to prevent it. Clubs and referees have a duty of care to provide safe playing conditions for players. A judge may well rule that fixing upright steel posts in the area of a body contact sport is in fact an act of negligence. Padding will help reduce the likelihood of injury but the evidence of the two Canberra players shows the risk of serious injury is still present. Maybe that is why Canberra have ridiculously thick padding masquerading as milk cartons at home games these days.

Australia does not really need any more Americanisms we have enough already in Rugby League with rucks becoming hit-ups, defence becoming deeeeefence or just ?D? as one coach calls it, not to mention red zones. So it is with hesitation that another American idea be introduced to Rugby League but they were onto something when they designed the goal posts with just one upright that was positioned on the dead ball line. Having two posts instead of four immediately halves the risk of injury. Moving the posts out of the most critical area of the field being the try line would also help.

An ?out-there? innovation could be the installation of laser lights on the cross bar that would project a laser curtain into the sky. This would be more affective during night games but would do away with the need for touch judges. If the laser projected a green curtain then the crowd and referee could easily see if the ball went between the posts as would reflect the green light.

Why stop there? Why not employ the use of lasers to project a hologram image of goal posts thus removing the risk of injury altogether. There would be no need for cumbersome pads, no spectator view blockage, and no crossbar to interrupt with general play. Regrettably moments etched in Rugby League history like the famous State of Origin try by Greg Dowling in the mud after Wally Lewis hit the cross bar with a chip kick will be just memories.

On second thoughts maybe we might just leave things as they are.


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