TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 08: Johnathan Thurston of the Cowboys is helped from the field during the round six NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Wests Tigers at 1300SMILES Stadium on April 8, 2017 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

“Injury Prone”

When a player is labelled as “injury prone”, what does that actually mean? Obviously, a player who misses large parts of each season due to injury will be given this tag. But are some players more prone to injury than others? How many games do they have to miss/injuries do they have to suffer before they are labelled injury prone? Can a player not miss many games and still be injury prone? Some players seem to get injured more than others, but it isn’t always easy to identify those at higher risk of injury.

When discussing injury prediction there are a few factors that can have some influence:

  • Past injury in the same area (most significant predictor, scar tissue/weakness/overuse)
  • Poor strength/conditioning
  • Poor technique/biomechanics (particularly in sports with repetitive movements)
  • Genetic/hereditary factors (poor bone density, collagen production)
  • Overly stiff or lax (loose) joints
  • Poor reaction time
  • A tendency to take chances or put yourself in a position to get injured (little hesitation)
  • High pain tolerance (more likely to play through pain)

The list could go on, but even being able to identify these factors in a player it is extremely difficult to quantify the likelihood of future injury.

When first looking into this I put the question out to Twitter and Facebook: past or present who comes to mind when talking about the most injury prone NRL player?

Suggestions came in fast, with some players gaining several nominations quite quickly. I decided to look into the stats (not my area of expertise so apologies in advance for any calculation errors) of the most commonly suggested players. I tried to include suspensions where obvious and took into account reserve grade stints where I could find accurate reporting. Origin players were given a 1.5 game discount for every 3 Origins played (usually a player will miss 1-2 club games a year due to Origin duty or rest post-Origin). The “leaderboard” is below:

The “leaderboard” is below:

Player Games % played
Brett Papworth 7 of possible 66 11%
Kyle Stanley 46 of possible 131 35%
Ben Henry 52 of possible 120 43%
Tim Moltzen 90 of possible 180 50%
David Woods 160 of possible 293 54%
Adam MacDougall 195 of possible 355 55%
James Tedesco 74 of possible 126 59%
Terry Campese 139 of possible 216 64%
Justin Hodges 251 of possible 370 68%
Manu Vatuvei 226 of possible 325 69%
Brett Stewart 233 of possible 332 70%
Brent Tate 229 of possible 328 70%
Nathan Peats 103 of possible 144 72%
Steve Matai 230 of possible 309 74%
Josh Dugan 142 of possible 192 74%
Jarrod Mullen 211 of possible 275 76%
Paul Gallen 286 of possible 366 78%
Adam Reynolds 118 of possible 134 88%
Johnathan Thurston
(Cowboys years)
269 of possible 302 89%
Cameron Smith 341 of possible 362 94%
Jarrod Croker 195 of possible 205 95%
James Maloney 189 of possible 193 98%
(Smith, Croker and Maloney were included as “durable” players over the past few years for comparison)

This obviously is fairly heavily weighted to those who have suffered season-ending injuries; ACL’s, shoulder reconstructions etc. But I guess that is what I wanted to look at, should a player who has suffered 1-2 season ending injuries be considered more injury prone than another who has had countless soft tissue strains throughout their career? I had often looked at Jarrod Mullen as injury prone; any time he hit full pace I worried his hamstring could go at any moment. Manu Vatuvei was another, he has been amazing to score 10+ tries in so many seasons for the Warriors. Yet I felt he could always find a niggling injury each year. 2 of the most nominated players were Dugan and Matai, and whilst 74% is nothing to brag about for their supporters I’m sure most of us expected that figure to be lower.

Ask any physio or team Dr and they will tell you there are players who are more likely to get injured than others. But ask them to identify these players in their team and I doubt you would get many definitive answers. Medical staff need to rely on players to accurately report symptoms that may not be obvious externally, which doesn’t always occur. It has long been a badge of honour in the NRL to play through pain without complaint. But as the professionalism in the game has increased players are realising the importance of trusting in the medical staff at their disposal.

I have always found accurate information on the severity of a player’s injury, how their recovery is progressing and when they are due back on the field is hard to come by. A player will often predict they will be back before even the earliest estimates. A coach can give little to no information at all, or may oversell the severity of an injury so when a player recovers it is an “early return”. Teams can be aware of an issue that could increase a player’s injury risk (e.g. lingering tightness/weakness, joint stiffness, poor conditioning), but punters/fans and even reporters/media analysts are often none the wiser.

That’s what makes injury prediction so difficult, and almost impossible, particularly for anyone not directly involved with treating the player. The biggest predictor of future injury is previous injury, so it makes sense that a player who has been injured recently could be at higher risk of injury now. But if he has recovered completely often the risk isn’t that much higher than that of any NRL player running out on a given weekend. Whether a player is considered “injury prone” really comes down to each individual’s criteria for the label, but be careful not to use it as a vague term reacting to a player’s recent injuries rather than examining how the player was injured in the first place.

Injury Roundup

Johnathan Thurston and Lachlan Coote

JT suffered a grade 1 calf strain on the weekend and is expected to be out for 2-3 weeks. As I wrote with Lachlan Coote a few weeks ago, this is not an injury you want to take chances coming back early from as it is very easily aggravated if not 100%. This has proven true with Coote as he is set to miss his second week after aggravating the injury in his first game back. The Cowboys will no doubt be cautious with Thurston particularly with what happened with Coote.

Bevan French

French suffered a grade 2 PCL sprain at training last week and will be out for 4-6 weeks. He will not require surgery, as even grade 3 (complete rupture) PCL injuries often don’t require surgery. The PCL (unlike the ACL) has a great ability to heal itself, which is why even the most severe PCL injuries can recover in 6-8 weeks.

Ben Hunt

Hunt suffered a hamstring strain on Thursday night that will reportedly keep him out for 6-8 weeks. This likely suggests he suffered a grade 2 strain, and may be in a location on the hamstring that requires a longer recovery (eg join between the tendon and muscle) as most grade 2 strains will fall somewhere in the 4-6-week recovery range. The hamstring strain, like the calf, is an injury that is easily aggravated if not 100%.

David Klemmer

Klemmer suffered an ankle sprain which he was able to play through for 20 minutes plus in the game on the weekend. He has had scans that showed no major damage, and whilst he has not been named this week if the inflammation settles over the next few days he should be fit for the Bulldogs round 8 clash.

Rory Kostjasyn

Is 1-2 weeks away from a return after having throat surgery to repair fractured cartilage and damaged vocal cords. He is yet to complete contact work at training; this will be his final test before gaining clearance to return to NRL action.

Jarryd Hayne

Many reports have Hayne a chance of returning for round 8, however, Tony Webeck from nrl.com has indicated Hayne is still only running on an anti-gravity treadmill. This is a treadmill that allows you to control how much of your body weight goes down through your legs as you run, a bit like running in a pool without the resistance of the water. This would indicate he is at least 2-3 weeks away from returning, as he would still need to complete rehab steps of normal running, direction change and simulated gameplay before considering returning to an NRL game.

Martin Taupau

His diagnosis revealed today, Taupau has unfortunately fractured his ribs. As I said with Peachey last week, this is not a rib injury you can “needle up” and play through. A fractured rib poses a threat to the internal organs, so must be given time to adequately heal before a player can return to play. Taupau should fall somewhere in the 4-6 week recovery range, however, as we have seen with Peachey this can be as quick as 2 weeks in rare cases.

Tyson Frizell

Initially thought to have suffered an intercostal injury, a diagnosis of an oblique strain is unfortunate for Frizell as this is often a tougher injury to recover from. He has been named to start this week which is a great sign and means he only suffered a grade 1 strain, however even grade 1 strains can linger for 2-4 weeks. Watch the training/injury reports for further clarification on his status for this week.

James Segeyaro

Segeyaro fractured his forearm in his first tackle of the game on the weekend and played through it. Scans on Tuesday revealed a small fracture near the metal plate he had inserted the last time he fractured his arm in 2016 which cost him 8 weeks on the sideline. With initial scans being inconclusive, it would appear he did not suffer a large or complete fracture. Even though an injury around a metal plate can linger (see Bryce Cartwright) I would expect Segeyaro to return in 4-6 weeks.

As always if you have any questions, throw a comment down below or hit me up on Twitter @nrlphysio or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nrlphysio/

The opinions given by the author of this article are given by a qualified physiotherapist, HOWEVER they are based on the information available to the author at the time of publication; are general; and are not based on any formal physical assessment and/or diagnosis by the author. If you believe you may be suffering from an injury similar to one commented on by the author, do not rely on the author’s advice as it may not apply to you – see a qualified physiotherapist for a full assessment, diagnosis and treatment plan.

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