NRL clubs have been encouraged to continue adopting a more conservative approach to HIAs with the introduction of an 18th man if three players fail tests during the same match.
A meeting of the ARLC on Tuesday gave in-principal approval for clubs to carry an emerging player as an 18th man who could be used in matches from round five if three members of the team are ruled out by HIAs.
The 18th man is unlikely to be the same player used as a stand-by if a member of the 17-strong squad named for the match is injured in the warm-up.
The decision followed a spate of injuries and head knocks in last weekend's round of matches which left Cronulla with no players on the bench for the entire second half of their loss to Parramatta, while Sydney Roosters and Canberra finished with just one interchange player.
18th man given go ahead
While it is a rare occurrence for three players from the same team to fail HIAs, ARLC chair Peter V'landys said greater awareness and vigilance was likely to see an 18th man required in matches this season.
"We believe that the doctors and the clubs are taking a much more cautious approach with HIA, which we encourage, so we believe there will be cases again this year where there will be three in a match," V'landys said.
"It is only really designed for an emergency situation. There are four interchange players already and if they lose two they still have two others, so basically it's for instances like what occurred on the weekend with Cronulla and Canberra.
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"It is for the rare situation in which it occurs, although we believe that it may not be that rare if they continue the cautious approach with HIAs.
"We certainly want to encourage that they continue the cautious approach, that is one of the reasons we have introduced the 18th man.
"Concussion for us is a major issue and we want to do everything in our power to encourage the doctors to be more cautious and take the player off when there is an element of doubt.
"We have spent money on surveillance as well in the Bunker so we are looking at in real time as well."
Some clubs believe that the number of failed HIAs before coaches can access the 18th man should be two as they believe it will rarely be used, with one CEO saying it was a waste of the NRL's money to pay for an additional player to travel to matches.
However, V'landys said the ARLC wanted to ensure that the additional player didn't have an impact on the tempo of a match.
"It would have been used twice over the last weekend and the reason for that is because they are taking a more cautious approach – but if it is not used then so be it," V'landys said.
"We haven't gone away from the fact that we want fatigue so that there is brilliance in the game."
The requirement that the 18th man be an emerging player who can't be used in consecutive matches is designed to ensure that young players aren't missing out on regular game time in the lower grades.
The ARLC will consult with the RLPA, clubs and coaches to finalise the definition of an emerging player for the 18th man rule.
"This is a dynamic environment," V'landys said. "As a Commission we have always said we would be agile in changing rules when it is in the best interests of the game and this is one of those examples.
"We see this as an opportunity to give an emerging player a taste of first grade rugby league in their team's time of need.
"The 18th player will also have to be rotated weekly so you don't have a young player missing out on playing lower grades every week."
"All fans agree we don't want to see a situation where a club is left with one player on the bench and this rule change will provide insurance for all clubs.
"It will also only be activated in the most dire of circumstances for a club, so we don't see it having a material impact on games every week."