RFL launches pilot for crucial game-wide research into head impacts

The Rugby Football League will take an “important next step” in its work on head impacts by launching a pilot for an extensive game-wide research project to quantify the risk of it in the sport and help reduce it in the future.

Wigan Warriors' Zak Hardaker is assessed after an injury. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

The 12 Betfred Super League clubs have agreed to work with the governing body on the Instrumented Mouthguard Project, with research to be led by Leeds Beckett University.

It is intended to cover more than 1,200 players across 50 teams at various levels of the game, also including Academy players, the Betfred Women’s Super League and a number of different age groups at Community clubs.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The pilots will run from May to August and involve the research team testing different instrumented mouthguards on the various groups of players in both training and matches.

The findings of the pilot study will inform which instrumented mouthguards are selected for the project to begin in November and run for three years.

It is intended that the research project will align with the detailed injury surveillance which is already underway for the Men’s and Women’s Super League and (Men’s) Academy competitions, with a focus on three questions:

1 – What are the head impact exposures across Rugby League, to quantify player load profiles?

2 – How does tackle technique and tackle height influence head impacts within Rugby League?

3 – What are the biomechanical mechanisms during concussion events in Super League?

Professor Ben Jones, the lead researcher from Leeds Beckett University and the Head of Performance of the RFL’s England Performance Unit, said: “In Rugby League as in other sports, there is widespread recognition of the need to maximise our understanding of the impact of head collisions.

"Mouthguard technology has recently developed rapidly, allowing valid measures of head impacts and movement.

“Instrumented mouthguards are already being used by some clubs in Rugby League (with Leeds Rhinos using them since 2020 and Salford Red Devils starting to use them for the 2021 Season); however, a game-wide project will enable a better understanding across different levels of the sport with a bigger data set.”

The data provided will allow a detailed analysis of head accelerations, which can then be used to better understand the load players are exposed to in rugby league.

The biomechanics aspects of the project will be led by Dr Gregory Tierney, from University of Leeds and Ulster University.

The RFL’s chief regulatory officer, Karen Moorhouse said: “The wellbeing of players is a top priority of the RFL and clubs.

“The RFL has protocols across the game in relation to concussion (covering recognition, removal and rehabilitation) with the aim of protecting the welfare and health of players.

“These protocols have evolved as a result of increased knowledge of concussions. The RFL sees this project (and the ability to make evidence-based decisions on the basis of the outcomes) as an important next step in the understanding of head impacts and has committed to it for the benefit of current and future players.”