NRL Physio: Injury analysis to five key Supercoach stars

The highly reputable Brien Seeney, better known as 'NRL Physio', provides an injury profile on some of the biggest names in the game.

NRL Pre Season

The injury profiles below will help you determine which players have identifiable injury or physical performance risk heading into this Supercoach season.

They will also highlight those players who might be undervalued due to an incorrect notion that they are injury prone, or overvalued as they are likely to gradually return from injury. 

Injury history, rehab status, and physical condition are significant factors to consider when trying to predict how well a player is likely to perform in a given season. This is only part of the story though, with many more factors needing to be considered, such as:

  • Past performance (were they having a breakout season before injury?)
  • Strength of schedule (how many byes do they have during Origin time?)
  • Team prospects (will the Bulldogs attack improve?)
  • Likely workload (age, change in team role/dynamics)
  • Changes in support staff (like the Titans defense-focused hires)
  • Personal motivation (is it a contract year?)
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These profiles won’t reveal the whole story. I could tell you I have no concerns about Nathan Cleary’s physical performance or re-injury risk heading into the season, but he could play every game while the Panthers have a massive drop in form and finish 10th with Cleary averaging 50ppg. You never know…

Random injuries happen in contact sports. 60-80% of the players in this document will suffer injuries in 2023 that result in missed game time, with an average of two injuries per game. Each time a player walks onto the field there’s roughly a 5% chance of sustaining an injury. 

Some clubs like to play smoke and mirrors with their injury info, complications can occur in rehab, and freak outliers do happen. Reimis Smith had two pec ruptures in one season!

Unfortunately I can’t perfectly predict who will and won’t get injured in 2023, but I can guarantee that I’ve given these profiles my all and have held nothing back. You’ll know what I know.

*NOTE – When I use terms like performance/workload/output, this is info that generally correlates to fantasy averages, and often I’m referring directly to fantasy scoring.

Injury history, expected recovery time and performance on return from injury are all extremely vital factors in a player’s SuperCoach prospects and scoring. Over at NRL Physio’s patreon this is explained for every injured player during the season in easy to understand ways to allow you to make the best decisions for your team. If you want a leg up on your opponents in NRL SuperCoach or you are interested in the world behind injuries, rehab and return to performance then this is for you! More here.

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Kalyn Ponga

Current statusRehab from calf strain, Round 1 will be 8 weeks post injury
Injury history2023 – calf strain (early Jan)2022 – concussion, concussion, concussion, grade 1 MCL sprain2021 – concussion, groin strain (adductor)2020 – labrum (shoulder cartilage) tear + rotator cuff injury (reconstruction surgery), broken nose2019 – calf strain, concussion
2023 expectations3 concussions (failed HIAs) in 6 weeks brought his 2022 season to a premature end after playing just 14 games. Initially had lingering headaches after the third concussion, but reportedly this had settled by the end of the regular season (6 weeks later). Plenty to talk about here (before the calf strain even happened, which we will get to), so let’s dive in:

Firstly the usual concussion risk caveats apply. Ponga has a history of 5 concussions in the past 4 seasons, and possibly more, with the results of a few HIA’s not known due to being late in the game (see below for more detail). This typically would leave him at least 3-4X greater risk of suffering a future concussion, and if that does eventuate in 2023 it is highly probable he will be facing a multi-week stint on the sideline. 

Historically around 10% of NRL concussions require a multi-week absence, but in players with a history of multiple concussions/prolonged symptoms that number increases to above 30%.

Now there’s the moving of positions, from fullback to five eighth. What effect does this have on his injury risk? Historically in regard to any type of injury (musculoskeletal + concussion) fullback has been much more dangerous, responsible for nearly double the number of injuries when compared to five-eighth over the past 6 seasons. Five eighth is actually statistically the safest starting spot on the park, with the lowest injury rate per game when compared to any other position on the field. 

In relation to concussion, the stats still sit in five eighths favour. Over the past 2 seasons (seasons with individual HIA stats available) the comparison of the 2 positions is:
Fullback – 20 HIA’s, 13 concussionsFive eighth – 17 HIA’s, 3 concussionsSo while the HIA rate is fairly similar, fullbacks have suffered concussions at a much higher rate. This would remain true even if you took out those fullbacks who have recurring concussion issues like Ponga (4 failed HIA’s in that time), Tedesco (2) and Papenhuyzen (1).

There is also talk of Ponga’s game play and how he gets concussed, with some suggesting it is a result of his running style from the back at fullback. So in a review of every HIA Ponga has undergone in his career:

1 – hit high taking the ball to the line, passed HIA (2018)

2 – hit high running ball back from a kick, passed HIA (2019)

3 – hit high after kicking, failed HIA (2019)

4 – head slammed into ground while being tackled in straightforward hitup, no clarification on HIA result, played the next week (2020)

5 – lands awkwardly after contesting bomb, no clarification on HIA result, played the next week (2020)

6 – hit high running a sweep play, passed HIA (2020)

7 – off the ball collision after being pushed, failed HIA (2021)

8 – head slammed into ground while getting tackled in a straightforward hitup, passed HIA (2022)

9 – knee to the back of the head off the ball, passed HIA (2022)

10 – shoulder to the head while trying to make an upright try-saving tackle, failed HIA (2022)

11 – hit high taking the ball to the line, failed HIA (2022)

12 – hit high taking the ball to the line, failed HIA (2022)

Not much of a “fullback play” pattern there, with most of them a result of Ponga taking the ball to the line. This is something he will continue to do at five eighth, as part of what makes him so good is his ability to take the ball deep into the defensive line and make plays.

In regards to the new demands he will have to face – yes he will have to do more tackling, and the tackler is more at risk than the ball carrier of suffering a concussion. So theoretically this would see his risk increase slightly.

But I think all the discussion about his switching of positions and how this affects his concussion/injury risk is burying the lede: in the past 5 seasons Ponga has undergone 12 HIA’s, with (at least) 5 confirmed concussions. That is the important discussion point here, and the factor that influences his injury risk the most no matter where he plays on the park. 

It was actually quite confronting going back and watching the HIA’s for Ponga over the years, even taking out those hits that resulted in a concussion. I don’t think I can remember a player who looked down and out after a heavy hit so many times but was able to either remain on or return to the field. 

The more that is learnt about brain health in regards to contact sport, the more the evidence tends to lean towards brain trauma over time being the important factor to assess rather than number of concussions. It’s why there is talk about limiting the amount of contact training NRL players can do in a given timeframe – to reduce the overall load/amount of trauma the brain could be exposed to over a season. Ponga has certainly had his fair share of exposure in this area in recent years.

The good news here is that the Knights and Ponga made the right call in sitting for the rest of 2022 as well as the RLWC, even when Ponga was symptom free and felt like he could play. Time is one of the most important factors when allowing for the brain to heal, and he has had plenty of that over the past 6 months. And it’s no certainty he will continue to have concussion issues in 2023 – a recent example in Luke Keary suffered 5 concussions in the space of 18 months between 2018-2019 but then went 2 and a half seasons with no documented concussions. 

It’s here that is worth mentioning the recent calf strain, suffered in early January but said to be minor by the Knights. Whilst calf strains are notorious for lingering symptoms/gradual rehab progress he is still very likely to be available for Round 1 (would have to be a big setback with 8 weeks to rehab a usual 4 week injury). And the re-injury rate for calf strains is surprisingly not too bad, typically sitting at below 2% for the first 6 weeks on return to play. It will limit his ability to build fitness and familiarity with his new role in the team over the next month, but I wouldn’t say it’s the major factor I’m considering when assessing Ponga as a SuperCoach prospect.

I’ve taken well over 1000 words to effectively say Ponga is a highly volatile prospect in 2023. He will be at an increased risk for concussion + prolonged recovery time, and he has had a disrupted preseason suffering a calf injury 2 months out from Round 1. But if he is able to remain on the field the signs are good that he will be a value buy for SuperCoach purposes. Priced at a 50ppg average, even taking just his 80 minute game average from 2022 shoots this up to 62ppg. And he didn’t have the goalkicking in half of those games. He is almost certainly going to score much higher than a 50ppg average in 2023 if he can play full 80 minute games. 

In a hypothetical world a Ponga without the concussion history is a locked in buy – but it’s the exact type of injury history I’m most hesitant with due to the unpredictability. At this stage I’m avoiding in Classic, but it’s definitely not crazy to start with him (therefore only needing to burn one trade to move him on if another concussion occurs). For Draft purposes I’m waiting til at least mid Round 3, and possibly longer.

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Adam Doueihi

Current statusHealthy
Injury history2021 – partial left ACL tear (reconstruction surgery, round 1 is 6 months post surgery), concussion, knee issue2019 – concussion2018 – left ACL/meniscus injury + reconstruction
2023 expectationsFrom a performance standpoint – all aboard the Doueihi bus for 2023. Provided the Tigers don’t do something crazy and start him in the centres the prospects are fantastic for Doueihi to improve this season (his 2nd back from an ACL reconstruction) – my injury buy of 2023.
Being Doueihi’s 2nd ACL to his left knee the Tigers took their time with his return to play, and it showed with it only taking 4 weeks for him to start dropping starring performances and big SC scores. Now in saying that there was still a mini build up in both minutes and performance, averaging just 26ppg over his first 3 games and 43ppg over his first 5. But his final 8 game stretch of a 72ppg average is incredibly impressive coming back from a 2nd ACL injury at a young age, and I think is almost the base expectation you can have for Doueihi in 2023.
The same re-injury risk that exists for Blore has to be mentioned here for Doueihi – historically 24% of NRL players who have suffered 2 ACL injuries go on to suffer a 3rd, with most occurring in the first 18 months post return to play. Doueihi will be just over 18 months post ACL injury when the season kicks off, so hopefully a full offseason has helped significantly reduce his risk of recurrence.
The benefit here is the slow start on his return in 2022 did cheapen his price – with a season average of 59 more than 10ppg less than that final 8 game stretch. Add in the Tigers hopefully improving after some recruitment and a Burton/Doueihi 5-8 combo has been an easy pick for me in SC Classic. Draft wise I’d be as bold as to take him in the late first round (all provided he’s the starting five eighth)
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Kotoni Staggs

Current statusOffseason shoulder reconstruction – Round 1 will be 5-6 months post surgery
Injury history2022 – shoulder injury (initially called a cork, but was actually labrum damage), post season shoulder reconstruction2021 – high grade left MCL sprain, hamstring strain2020 – left ACL injury (reconstruction surgery, patellar tendon graft) + meniscus injury, grade 2 hamstring strain2019 – toe fracture
2023 expectationsNo concerns for Round 1 barring rehab aggravation, played through shoulder issue late in 2022 season (initial injury suffered in Origin was called a “cork”). Definitely affected his performance/output (pre injury SC avg: 53, post injury SC avg: 44), and outside backs tend to handle return from shoulder reconstructions fairly well. Surgery also decreases risk of recurrence. So evidence there for an improved season
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Christian Welch

Current statusIn rehab post achilles rupture, Round 1 will be 12 months post injury
Injury history2022 – right achilles rupture + surgery
2021 – concussion, knee swelling, concussion2020 – concussion2019 – right ACL, left meniscus
2023 expectationsWas initially pushing to return in late 2022 but opted to delay until 2023 due to past lower limb injury history. The best thing he could’ve done for his 2023 prospects – taking time with one of the most difficult injuries to rehab back to full performance is always going to go well. Middle forwards aren’t super reliant on achilles for top performance (explosive acceleration), though leg drive can be limited and mental battles can be present in the early return. But we have seen in the past from a similar player that SC scoring/performance can be relatively unaffected in the first season back from an achilles rupture.
Josh McGuire (achilles rupture in 2015)2014 (pre injury)/2015 (achilles rupture)/2016 (1st season back:SC average ppg: 60/57/58Minutes per game: 59/51/58
I’m not approaching Welch with expectations as tempered as I usually do with players who are coming back from an achilles rupture, somewhat similarly to Jayden Brailey from last season who performed his role extremely well almost immediately on return. I think Welch provides value at his price in SC classic, but there’s many similar options in the front row that the “coming back from an achilles rupture” factor could be a valid tie-breaker that is not in Welch’s favour.
An added bonus was it gave him the best part of 12 months to give his brain time away from impact/concussion risk which was becoming a bit of a concern heading into 2022.
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Reuben Cotter

Current statusHealthy
Injury history2022 – grade 2 right hamstring strain (involves tendon), concussion2021 – shoulder injury, Lisfranc injury (surgery)
2023 expectationsI liked Cotter heading into 2022 and I feel the same in 2023. Prior to his hamstring tendon injury he averaged 65ppg (and 76ppg when starting), but finished the season averaging 50ppg over the final 6 games after returning. Involvement of the tendon makes the rehab tougher & re-injury risk higher, so not surprising the Cowboys eased him back to a full workload. Re-injury risk is only slightly increased now several months down the track. Priced at a 59 average I don’t see that getting below 60 if he stays injury free

We’ve linked up with Betr for the 2023 footy season! Each week of the NRL season we’ll be delivering our SC Playbook unique market, to kick things off, we’re starting with the World Club Challenge, with the Panthers to win by 12+ points in the heat in Penrith. FOLLOW HERE.

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