Insurance initiatives a big leap forward

Journeyman: Former Rabbitohs, Sharks, Dragons and Storm forward Michael Greenfield’s career was cut short by a neck problem. Photo: Simon Alekna Fallen Eagle: Richie Fa’aoso had to retire due to a serious neck injury. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Career cut short: Former Wests Tigers forward Simon Dwyer. Photo: Jeff de Pasquale

There was no insurance scheme or foundation when Richie Fa’aoso broke his neck, an injury that robbed him of a grand final berth and ended his career prematurely.

But the former Manly forward is pleased rugby league is on the cusp of introducing two historic initiatives to ensure players do not slip through the cracks.

“If they can set up those things for the future, that would be great,” Fa’aoso said.

“There’s nothing worse than not knowing what to do. Especially with me, I went in straight from school and didn’t do any courses. That’s my fault. I’ve got no complaints, I hope the guys are looked after.”

The NRL has indicated a foundation will be set up, most likely by the end of the year, to help players such as Fa’aoso, Simon Dwyer and Michael Greenfield – a trio who have sustained career-ending injuries without a safety net.

The governing body has also committed to introducing a whole-of-game insurance scheme from March next year to ensure all players are comprehensively covered.

However, players are faced with a crucial decision in the next week over whether to approve an interim insurance product until then. The 16 club bosses unanimously backed the proposed cover at a meeting at Rugby League Central on Thursday, but the ultimate decision now rests with the players.

The Rugby League Players’ Association has presented its constituents with the policy and a vote will most probably be taken on whether to proceed within a week.

The proposed scheme will “top up” existing insurance arrangements to double the payout for total and permanent disability injuries to $1 million. At this point, only the top 25 contracted players at each club will be covered for injuries, including quadriplegia, loss of sight or loss of limbs.

“I wouldn’t put anything towards the players I didn’t believe in,” said RLPA president Clint Newton, who plays for Newcastle.

“I’m not a person sitting behind a desk rolling out a scheme for players when I’m not a part of it.

“I’m a [current] player, I understand what is required to be a professional sports person and the risks involved. And this is the best interim policy we can provide for the players.

“I can’t stress enough it’s the best policy we can provide and it’s the best one for me as a rugby league player.”

Player welfare is a hot topic after the game banded together in the RiseForAlex round to raise funds for injured former Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon. NRL supporters donated more than $1 million last week for the cause. Fans have again been asked to help out with “Roar for a cause”, a fund-raiser for Dwyer. The former Wests Tigers forward had a career-ending injury in 2011 and a function will be held at Wests Campbelltown on August 1 to help him transition to a post-football career.

Fa’aoso, whose final year of his Sea Eagles contract remains honoured, said he was grateful the game had not forgotten him and thanked officials, including NRL welfare officer Nigel Vagana, for checking on his progress.

“They have been good and are helping out,” he said.

NRL CEO Dave Smith said officials were committed to ensuring injured players would never be left without support.

“At the end of the day, this is a very, very safe game. But when tragic accidents happen, as they did with Alex, we need to make sure we are catering for players not just within their playing contracts but realising it is going to impact on their lives,” he said.

Asked if rugby league was behind other codes in relation to player welfare, South Sydney CEO Shane Richardson said: “I think what Dave and his team are trying to do is bring us up to date with other codes in this area, there’s no question mark about that. In many parts of the game [they are bringing us] up to date. It’s about going forward, not going back.”

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