Landmark NRL concussion case discontinued

Head knocks: Former Cronulla Sharks forward Reece Williams. Picture: AAP

Head knocks: Former Cronulla Sharks forward Reece Williams. Picture: AAP

A concussion lawsuit brought against one of the most respected sports doctors in Australia has been discontinued, the first of its kind to be finalised stemming from the treatment of head knocks in the NRL.

In a move which could have wide-ranging implications, the Herald understands former Cronulla Sharks forward Reece Williams has dropped his legal action against the club's long-serving ex-doctor David Givney.

It is believed the case was quietly wound up in recent weeks after Williams had previously served legal papers on Givney with an intention to sue over the handling of his head injuries. Givney previously served as part of the support staff for the NSW State of Origin side and has made a return to the NRL this season as the Bulldogs' medico.

Williams was forced to prematurely retire from the NRL at the age of 25 after a serious head knock, after which he was found to have a blood clot on the brain in 2009. He had played 98 NRL games by the time he hung up the boots.

His case, one of several to have been lodged in the judicial system, has been closely watched by a number of former players. Williams, 33, is employed within the NRL referees department, and launched his legal action against medical staff and not the club or the NRL. He politely declined to comment when contacted by the Herald yesterday, but Givney confirmed the case had been discontinued.

Rugby league has already been grappling with legal action launched by former Newcastle Knights winger James McManus and ex-Eel Brett Horsnell against their old clubs over the handling of their concussion cases. Horsnell says he has suffered post-playing career mental health problems while McManus was the first Australian footballer to sue a professional sporting club after claiming the Knights should have forced him to retire. But the Williams case is the first of its kind to be finalised as the NRL beefs up its concussion protocols in 2019.

League Central announced last year it would implement a rule where clubs would be required to have two doctors on the sideline at each game this season to further help assess complex injuries such as head knocks, which have proved challenging to treat if occurring to players from the same side within a matter of minutes. It follows the use of a concussion spotter in the crowd at State of Origin matches and an independent medico who consulted with the team doctors of both NSW and Queensland on whether to drag a player from the field.

The NRL has previously dished out heavy fines to clubs which have flouted concussion protocols, but has warned of the threat of driving medicos away from the game if they named and shamed every breach in the public domain.