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Men in orange under most pressure for Origin

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Andrew Webster
NSW trainer Ronnie Palmer, pictured in 2010. © Getty Images NSW trainer Ronnie Palmer, pictured in 2010.

The men under the most pressure in Wednesday night’s Origin series opener won’t wear sky blue or maroon. They won’t even wear white.

They will be wearing orange.

Those men are NSW trainer Ronnie Palmer and his Queensland counterpart, Troy Thomson.

They are the two men who are vested with the not-so-easy task of determining if a player is concussed; if they should stay on the field or be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the sideline and medically assessed.

That process takes about 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes. That’s a long time in an NRL match. In Origin, it’s an eternity. You can lose an Origin match in 15 minutes. You can lose a series in 15 minutes.

At Lang Park, 15 minutes is two shouts of God-awful XXXX. Queenslanders, of course, can drink quicker than most because they have two heads.

NRL head of football Todd Greenberg visited the Blues and Maroons camps last week and laid down the law about the game’s tough new concussion laws.

How strong was he? “Very bloody strong,” says one NSW coaching staff member.

Greenberg met NSW in Coffs Harbour on Friday. Then, later that night, those new laws were brazenly flouted when Bulldogs captain Michael Ennis was supposedly out cold but not subjected to concussion tests.

(The NRL has deemed that fullback Sam Perrett had been subjected to a concussion test.)

The Ennis incident, after he was whacked high by Roosters prop Sam Moa, was hilarious. Much of rugby league, if you can park your outrage and agenda for a moment, usually is.

The Bulldogs hooker laid face down with his head buried in the ANZ Stadium turf like a sniper high in the stands had taken him out.

Roosters captain Anthony Minichiello is best known for his affable giggle and his angry reaction summed up the hostility of the situation - that the Roosters were convinced that Ennis had taken a dive.

If Mini’s reaction didn’t sum it up, the fact Ennis’ own teammates trampled him to get into the ensuing fight/wrestle suggested they also thought the skipper was faking it.

Faking it - injuries, that is - has been around for decades.

Those who take the moral high ground when it comes to gaining an advantage on the field via whatever means possible have short memories, or should have a quiet shandy with the leading halfbacks of the day during the 1960s through to mid-1990s.

It was revealed on the Big Sports Breakfast on Monday that Ennis had felt a “stinger” in his neck and, because of his history with those sorts of injuries, he stayed down and didn't want to move.

Then came a miracle: Ennis rose to his feet, as if touched on the shoulder by the Almighty himself, and he chatted calmly to the referees before trotting off, even stopping for a quick interview with Channel Nine as Roosters players tried to go him again in the tunnel.

The NRL is at present investigating if the Bulldogs should be fined for the second time again this season for because Ennis was not assessed for concussion.

On the face of it, it seems like a clear breach. Will Greenberg mete out another fine to his former club?

The NRL has talked tough, and acted sort of tough, when it comes to the new concussion laws but it is about to face its sternest test.

For years, the Origin myth has been built around violence and brutality. If there is a different set of rules for Test matches, they have a different book for Origin.

Playing while hurt - and especially after being knocked out - is a badge of honour.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve interviewed exhausted players in the rooms after Origin matches and they’ve told me they can’t remember what just happened.

The sight of forwards wobbling back into defensive lines, struggling to keep their feet like the drunkest man in the party, is part of the folklore. Without it, Channel Nine would have nothing to show pre-match in those moody montages with gladiatorial-style music in the background.

Dallas Johnson was riding the cup and saucer ride in Disneyland in the opening seconds of the deciding game of the series in 2007 but was sent back on the field in the second half.

That prompted outrage from his then Storm coach Craig Bellamy and Maroons teammate Greg Inglis, who said afterwards Johnson should not have gone back on.

In today's climate, Johnson would never be allowed to return to the field.

But it’s the less obvious concussions, the ones where the player isn’t in Disneyland but just at the front gate, that provide a difficult grey area for those in the orange shirts.

Whether Palmer or Thomson decide a player is merely dazed and should be sent back into the game’s most violent form of the code, or taken off for medical assessment, will be under intense scrutiny.

Palmer has been around footy for as long as anyone can remember. Thomson, who works for the Bunnies, is known as one of the best in the business.

But they face $20,000 fines or possible deregistration if they get it wrong.

How tough will it be for the man in orange shirts to tell those in sky blue or maroon to leave the field, in a match they've been waiting the whole lives to play?

Twitter: @awebstar1

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