Rugby league is leading the way when it comes to assessing and treating head injuries in sport, according to St Helens’ Alex Walmsley.
Walmsley is set to feature for Saints as they take on Salford Red Devils in Saturday’s Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford, while he is also in line to tour New Zealand and Papua New Guinea with Great Britain Lions.
It marks a remarkable comeback for Walmsley, who broke his neck in March 2018 while in action for Saints.
Concussion protocols have been in the spotlight in 2019, with Australia cricketer Steve Smith missing the third Ashes Test against England after he was struck by a Jofra Archer delivery. In rugby union, it has been suggested 10 minutes is not enough for a head injury assessment.
Though he believes rugby league is at the forefront of tackling the stigma surrounding head injuries, Walmsley acknowledged there is still plenty of work to be done.
“I didn’t know I’d broken my neck but there was a gut instinct where I knew I’d done something which meant I shouldn’t play on,” Walmsley told Omnisport.
“With the head injury as well, it forced our hand to get me off the pitch.
“You look at Steve Smith and how devastated he was but we’re not just sportsmen. We get tagged with how we should put our bodies on the line, but a lot of us are family men, we’ve got partners and kids and I think the most important thing to do after a game is you see your family.
Great to sign off our final home game of the year by booking a trip back to Old Trafford. Thanks to all you fans who have supported us all year… see you at the big one #COYS @Saints1890 pic.twitter.com/6JxEBjJju1
— Alex Walmsley (@engywalmsley) September 28, 2019
“The way [rugby league] has gone, with the doctors in place and the head [injury] protocols, we’re making sure that’s right.
“There was a time when you’d be considered soft or weak if you came off with a concussion or head injury, you’d be expected to crack on. We’re tough men who play a physical game but ultimately, regardless of the sport, if you’ve got a head issue we need to make sure we’re safe and our sport is at the front of that.”
Walmsley claimed the psychological aspect of his rehabilitation was the toughest hurdle to overcome, but to be on the verge of a Grand Final and a Lions tour has left him in no doubt he made the right decision in returning to rugby.
“It was a mental battle as much as it was a physical battle,” said the 29-year-old, who has made 22 league appearances this term.
“Not only getting back into a position where I was right to play again but being confident in my body. That was a tough battle, there was a lot of tough conversations to be had, mainly in my own head, about what I was going to do and was it worth it.
“Thankfully I came to the decision where I knew my body was right. To get back playing, it makes those times all worthwhile.”
Alex Walmsley is working with Dacia on their We Make Heroes campaign, celebrating understated heroes throughout Rugby League. To find out more, visit Dacia.com.