Timana Tahu: ‘There’s no such thing as a safer tackle. All we can do is try to lower the risk’ | Concussion in sport

It was in a Metropolis-Nation rugby league sport in 2001 that Timana Tahu had a light-bulb second. Or maybe, extra precisely, a lights-out second. He made what he describes as a “textbook lower-body deal with”.

“The subsequent thing I keep in mind was sitting on the bench and questioning how I acquired there,” Tahu tells Guardian Australia.

The then Newcastle Knights winger was additionally questioning what had occurred to go away him with two black eyes, a damaged nostril and a headache for the subsequent week. “However the concussion protocols weren’t even in at the moment,” he says. “So I saved on taking part in the following week.”

The incident planted a seed that grew till he moved to Parramatta and coach wished him to transfer to the centres, the place he would discover himself dealing with many extra collision conditions, and began doing a little wrestling drills with a former UFC fighter.

“My mind began ticking away on how I might use this in tackling in rugby league or rugby union,” Tahu says. “Then I began finding out it and understanding some completely different variations or deal with strategies.

“It is comparable in physique positioning, however there’s simply completely different biomechanics and completely different head positioning that, if it does come in and does get accepted to be taught, we can make it so easy that a child might execute this deal with. I began going away from what my defensive coaches have been telling me, which is excessive threat, and doing what was working for me.”

Tahu felt further threat lay in the conventional “cheek-to-cheek” methodology, which includes the tackler focusing on the ball service’s pelvic space and shifting their head to one facet of the physique so their cheek finally ends up their opponent’s bum cheek. On this state of affairs, he felt the head was susceptible to any change in route of the ball service and, being in a low place, much less in a position to react.

The unforgiving pelvic bone was additionally seen as perilous, ensuing in a barely altered methodology of aiming larger for the softer belly area.

Timana Tahu with neuropsychologist Dr Andrew Gardner. {Photograph}: David Maurice Smith/Oculi

“I did get knocked out a few instances doing the lower-body deal with approach,” Tahu says. “And if you happen to see in immediately’s sport you see a lot of gamers getting knocked out throughout a lower-body conventional textbook deal with.”

Tahu used this variation and others for the remaining decade of his profession throughout rugby league – with the Eels, Knights, Penrith Panthers and New South Wales – and rugby union – with the NSW Waratahs and Wallabies and, lastly, Denver Stampede in the United States’ temporary PRO Rugby experiment.

It was whereas in the US that he took some teaching clinics and approached universities and faculties. The widespread reprise was: the place is your scientific proof?

So he went to get some. In 2017, he started formal analysis with the College of Newcastle. Backed by the NRL, senior biomechanics lecturer Dr Suzi Edwards, neuropsychologist Dr Andrew Gardner and a few colleagues used 3D movement seize to collect knowledge from a group of novice gamers performing completely different tackling strategies.

“When concussions happen throughout collision sports activities, they’re usually at all times throughout the deal with, and most of the time it’s to the tackler, not the ball service,” Edwards says. “So we need to have a have a look at the mechanism of damage in the deal with and perceive what’s truly taking place, and the way we can shield the tackler and the ball service to cut back their threat of sustaining a concussion.”

Gamers carry out tackling strategies in a studio as a part of the analysis. {Photograph}: David Maurice Smith/Oculi

In idea, it sounds a super methodology of concussion mitigation. However is it a reasonable answer for a participant in reside match situations? “It’s making an attempt to cut back these incidents the place they’re placing themselves in a harmful place,” Edwards says.

And what about the lots of of different tackles in anyone sport which do not, on their very own, trigger concussion however do contribute to repeated mind traumas that over time have been proven to lead to power long-term harm, together with power traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)?

“What we’re planning to do in our subsequent step is have a look at the inertial head impacts,” Edwards says. “So taking a look at the acceleration that gamers sustained throughout tackles all through a variety of completely different tackles, and they’re taking a look at the sub-concussive impacts the place we don’t know what’s taking place … so we can lower that inertial head pressure they’re sustaining and subsequently cut back the threat.

“It’s not simply taking a look at the precise ones that trigger the accidents, however that repetitive nature of the quantity of tackles – since you’re getting athletes tackling up to 50 tackles per sport … that’s a crucial half, not simply taking a look at the particular incidents, however taking a look at the cumulation of tackles.”

Tahu whereas taking part in for the Panthers in 2011. {Photograph}: Ryan Pierse/Getty Pictures

Tahu, who is now on the Wests Tigers teaching employees and doing work with the NRL, believes sport has advanced considerably since his taking part in days, but additionally feels “we haven’t actually acquired to the root of the downside, which is the deal with approach itself”.

“Issues getting applied in junior soccer usually are not being applied in senior soccer … there was a little bit of a confusion as effectively,” he says. “So for me, it was making an attempt to not change it as a lot, however taking a look at physique positioning and head positioning throughout contact.

“There’s no such thing as a safer deal with, as a result of it’s a contact sport and also you’ve acquired two human beings working at full tilt at one another. All we can do is try to lower the threat. This may be simply the begin, however at the least this is out of there, we’re getting publicity and we can open folks’s minds up.”

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