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Jon Wilkin: 'We will look back in horror at treatment of head injuries'

Jon Wilkin: 'We will look back in horror at treatment of head injuries'
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The former England forward says the full ramifications of head trauma suffered by athletes are not yet known.

Former St Helens and England forward Jon Wilkin believes rugby league players will one day "look back in horror" as the full effect of repeated head knocks becomes clear.

The Toronto Wolfpack loose forward is encouraged by steps taken by the Rugby Football League to improve player welfare but remains concerned that little is really known about the effects of repeated concussions and is calling for more research into head injuries in sport.

Wilkin has spoken out after his former team-mate James Graham, who now plays for St George Illawarra, revealed he will donate his brain to science in a bid to help further research into the subject.

"I think what James is doing is great and I applaud him," Wilkin told PA. "But it's going to be a long time before we understand the results and I just wonder if there is something that can be done now.

England v France – International Match – Leigh Sports Village
England prop James Graham has decided to donate his brain for research (PA Images/Martin Rickett)

"It's something I'm passionate about. One of the big problems is that we're still understanding the ramifications of head trauma on athletes. I don't think the answers are out there at the minute.

"In 30 years, we'll look back in horror at what we did to ourselves.

"I think the medical world has got some way to go to understand what the implications of it are, the brain is such a complex thing."

Wilkin, who spent 16 years with St Helens and recently played the 500th game of his career, reckons he has been knocked out cold "six or seven times" but he is more concerned about the effects of repeated minor head knocks.

"Big concussion injuries are clear to spot and well diagnosed and I feel rugby league has been at the forefront of dealing with them," the 35-year-old said.

"What is interesting for me is what the long-term result of a lot of minor head trauma is. Maybe five or six times a season you'll get a head knock which I can only describe as a loud ringing noise in you ear."

Referees are under instructions to halt a match as soon as a player goes down with a head knock and more than ever sit out matches due to the strict protocol now in place.

Widnes Vikings v St Helens – Betfred Super League – Magic Weekend – St James' Park
Jon Wilkin admits he is one major head injury away from quitting the game

Wilkin, who played for England in the 2008 World Cup, accepts that the days of the old 'enforcer' are effectively over but believes that attitudes still need to change.

He added: "This macho sort of bravado, this misconception of what tough is, that's something I'm obsessed with.

"The game needs to re-define toughness. In rugby league we label people tough for doing something that in everyday life is stupid.

"I believe the toughness is more based on endurance and physical performance rather than this blind bravery that puts your body at risk.

"It's taken me 16 or 17 years of playing to get to that mindset."

Wilkin, who famously played on during the 2007 Challenge Cup final with a bandage holding together his shattered nose, says he is only one bad concussion away from quitting but accepts that head injuries will always be a part of the game.

"Looking back, knowing what I know now about the potential danger and damage you can do to your brain and your mental health, would I do anything differently, I don't think I would," he said.

Jon Wilkin
Jon Wilkin is now playing for Toronto Wolfpack (Richard Sellers/PA)

"I accepted the risks from being a young lad. Individuals have a personal responsibility for their own health but as for the long-term health affects, who knows?

"I'm at the stage in my career that, if I got a bad one now, I would think twice.

"That being said, I don't think you will ever eradicate concussive injuries from rugby league because of the way the game is played, it's part and parcel of the game."

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England's James Graham pictured in November 2018
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England's James Graham to donate brain to science for research into head injuries

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