The 22-year-old Newcastle Knights forward, who now faces life as a quadriplegic, is in a Melbourne hospital after two rounds of surgery on his spine after fracturing two of his vertebrae in a tackle.
While the incident has reminded us that rugby league and other sporting codes are not immune to injury, North Beach and District Rugby League Football Club president Dale Lofts said it was important to note injuries such as this could happen anywhere.
‘All codes are focused on the care and welfare of players ” it is the main focus of our training and accreditation of coaches, team support staff and club officials,’ Mr Lofts said.
‘It is the single most important part of the development of players, from modified rules and games for junior players to the mandatory use of protective equipment and stringent adherence to the rules of the game.
‘Serious injuries ” whether you ride a bike, go swimming, jump on a skate board or even just walk ” occur more than any of us want and we all need to be actively working toward preventing as many injuries as possible, no matter how they were caused.
‘All these skills and awareness help prevent injury, not only in the games we play but also in the wider community, as well as developing attributes for life that will result in fewer injuries.’
Royal Perth Hospital spinal unit clinical nurse manager Ruth Crowe said it was apparent care was already being taken in sport and nobody went out on to the field with the intention to injure another, but accidents did occur.
‘The rules of the game are specified for the safety of those playing the sport,’ she said.
‘Potentially an individual could be faced with a life changing scenario, such as Alex, regardless of whether the rules are adhered to or not.’
Better Life Foundation WA director and Bayswater resident Charles Sultana was only 24 when a fishing trip to Coral Bay left him a quadriplegic.
The 36-year-old agreed with Mr Lofts and Ms Crowe, saying both the Australian Football and National Rugby leagues had introduced various rule changes in an attempt to prevent serious head and neck injuries, but both were high impact or high contact so the risk of serious injury was greater than non-contact sports.
‘The key task for administrators is to monitor trends in the style of play, for example the ducking of a players’ head to earn a free kick, or tackling methods, and making sure the potential for serious injury isn’t increased,’ Mr Sultana said.
Mr Sultana’s foundation helps improve the lives of people living with a spinal cord injury in WA.
‘We saw several permanent spinal cord injuries in the early to mid 2000s, which had arisen while athletes were playing these sports but thankfully there haven’t been many cases since,’ he said.
‘However, quite worryingly, there has been an increase in the number of aquatic related injuries, particularly at the beach with people being dumped by waves.’
Ms Crowe said about 8 per cent of spinal injuries were obtained from sporting activities.
‘The number of injuries due to sporting accidents is minimal in comparison to the overall spinal injuries each year,’ she said.
‘Sadly, some spinal injuries are just freak accidents and there is no way of knowing they would occur or prevent them.’
Mr Lofts said that in the club’s 64-year history there had not been one case of this type of injury and, while everyone should exercise caution, it was important children had the opportunity to be active, develop their skills, grow and integrate into the community.
‘Injuries and accidents are part of all our lives ” what we need to understand is how to manage risk while developing skills and knowledge to help with preventing or minimising injury,’ he said. ‘We need to be active, self-confident and community focused and sport does just that, giving kids the tools to live their lives to their fullest.’