Dave Craven - James Graham’s brain betrays true bravery of rugby league players

England's James Graham will donate his brain to science whe he dies (Picture: PA)
England's James Graham will donate his brain to science whe he dies (Picture: PA)
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WITNESSING Joe Westerman slap his dislocated kneecap back into place on the pitch and then casually pack down for a scrum is another reminder of the lengths rugby league players will go to to play the sport they love.

Just watching the footage back as the Hull FC player performed his own on-field medical procedure, it is hard not to wince and recoil in horror.

Hull Kingston Rovers' Weller Hauraki is tackled by Hull's Scott Taylor and Joe Westerman who would later suffer a dislocated knee. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Hull Kingston Rovers' Weller Hauraki is tackled by Hull's Scott Taylor and Joe Westerman who would later suffer a dislocated knee. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

So imagine the pain he must have been going through; sometimes you see players having a dislocated finger quickly popped back into place by a physio but this took things to another level completely.

Yet Westerman – who ignored his physio’s attempts to get him off the field in the dying embers of Thursday’s derby at Hull KR – insisted otherwise afterwards.

He recalled: “I looked at my leg, saw my knee cap on the side and I felt like I had to just smack it back in. It wasn’t really an excruciating pain. It freaked me out more than anything because it looked so weird.”

He expects to be training next week and doesn’t envisage missing Friday’s game against leaders St Helens. Obviously.

Week in, week out, players suffer less visible injuries, not least concussions from the countless high-speed collisions they experience out on the field.

Dave Craven

The images stunned TV viewers, even those including fellow professionals, and it brought back memories of some other remarkable acts of on-field bravery.

Sam Burgess not only playing on but earning the man-of-the-match award after fracturing his cheekbone and eye socket in the opening seconds of South Sydney’s 2014 NRL Grand Final win will take some beating.

In admittedly different circumstances but still staggering, how Cooper Cronk went into last year’s Grand Final with a fractured scapula and managed to help guide Sydney Roosters to their own win remains utterly mystifying.

Of course, though, these examples are all obvious injuries.

Week in, week out, players suffer less visible injuries, not least concussions from the countless high-speed collisions they experience out on the field.

Joe Westerman knows he will always have at least one dodgy knee for the rest of his life.

Leon Pryce was able to see the funny side when he, memorably, put on Twitter some footage of him falling over on the touchline when in charge at Workington Town, his knee randomly completely collapsing as he prowled the touchline, the result of years of wear and tear.

But, whether a rugby player – or player of contact sport – no one truly knows what happens to that most crucial, complex part of the human body: the brain.

England prop James Graham yesterday revealed he will be the first current rugby league player to actually donate his brain to science in a bid to help answer the pertinent question.

The St George Illawarra star, who has amassed more than 450 career games since debuting with St Helens in 2003, has long been an advocate of examining the effects of concussion on players. It comes on the back of research in Sydney that examined the brains of two middle-aged deceased former league players, both of whom played over 150 first grade games.

That showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in both – a disease linked to repeated head trauma.

Graham, who has suffered numerous concussions, will undergo tests throughout the remainder of his career to see how things develop. It is a fascinating piece of work which hopefully should produce findings that can aid players for generations to come.