Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou wants his players to be “smarter” in their tackling technique and believes there’s a “competitive advantage” in getting it right.
Head injuries have become an alarming issue in the world of contact sports — especially rugby league — in recent years due to the impact it can have on post-career players.
But along with protecting a player’s long-term health, Demetriou can see the immediate benefits from players perfecting their tackling technique.
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Speaking on The Bye Round with James GrahamDemetriou shared that “one of the biggest reasons” why there’s so many head knocks in the game is because players are “not getting their bodies in the right position to make tackles.”
He explained how wrestling has come into play with that — and why the Rabbitohs can reap the rewards from fixing technique from the juniors all the way up.
“I think a lot of that’s come from the last ten years being more wrestle-oriented than safe tackle practice and that goes right down,” Demetriou said.
“I remember watching an under 10s game at Shark Park a few years ago and listening to a coach talk about slow death on the sideline and I thought ‘what are we talking about?’
“We’ve just got to get back to teaching kids and all the way through to first grade safe tackle practice, where to put your head and how to approach a tackle, all that sort of stuff because I think it’s the competitive advantage now in first grade.
“To be able to minimize head knocks first and foremost — which can change a game or change a player’s career — but also if you don’t get your feet right you tackle high or you get it wrong and you’re going to get sent off and spend time on the sidelines.
“I think there’s a real (opportunity) for us as a club… I want to focus on footwork into collision and understanding how to be safe about that.”
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Demetriou, who is coming off his first full season as an NRL head coach, used his skipper, Cameron Murray as an example of a player that should change their tackling technique.
“In our SG Ball (squad) we really focus on two man tackles,” he said.
“Safe, approaching it with both players coming from the side.
“You see it all the time we’re flying out of the line, lose our feet, lose our body position and boom shoulder on head, head on head.
“Again we want that, everyone loves that brutality of our game (but we can) still have that in a way you don’t have to knock yourself out doing it.
“I had this conversation with Cam (Murray), he’s got to be smarter in the initial parts of the game because once a bit of fatigue gets in those flying out of line things tend to go away.
“How many times do you see players these days get their head on the wrong side and get hip on?
“We need to teach players to get back to approaching the tackle where to hit and to understand sometimes there’s going to be a reactional thing where a footwork gets you.
“Again even that blokes are dipping too early, bit of footwork (and) boom.
“We saw that’s what happened to Cam against the Roosters in Round 25. Victor Radley these guys are, they’re elite level athletes but the more we spend time on a standing tall for longer and dipping later approach to our tackle.
“I do feel like there’s a competitive advantage for every team that spends more time on it.”
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Meanwhile, Graham brought up how the NFL police the amount of contact that is allowed at training to limit the chances of a head knock and asked Demetriou if it was something he would support.
“I think there’s opportunities to control the type of contact that we do especially pre Christmas
and probably to the back end of January,” Demetriou said.
“We don’t do a lot of on-field contact other than structured drills where it’s footwork where it’s more safe contact, it’s not live.
“My thought process is you’ve only got so many tackles in you in a year and if you’re bashing each other for a whole pre-season, injuries or head knocks or just general wear and tear on your body, I don’ t think you’re going to get through the grueling NRL season.
“I’m open to putting some rules in and around live contact at training for sure but I do think that we’ve got to still have an opportunity for us to have the one-on-one contact in terms of training the technique right .”
It comes as the NRL world deals with the terribly sad journeys of rugby league legends Mario Fenech and Ray Price, who have both had their lives impacted by repeated concussions.
Having had Fenech spend some time with the Bunnies playing group this year, Demetriou has seen the effects first-hand and is conscious of setting his players up for life after footy.
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“Again for me as a coach it’s about making sure your players are safe,” Demetriou said.
“I don’t want to be here in ten years time talking about pushing a player to do things that have not set him up for life after footy.
“For me life after footy’s important, it’s one of the main factors that I talk to the players about, there’s a long life after footy.
“Most of us if we’re lucky will get to our early thirties and there’ll be fatherhood, married life and a lot of experiences to experience that are going to bring us joy and we want our players to embrace that.”