Rhinos look to lead the way with collision research

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Throughout 2021, Leeds Rhinos are set to continue to work alongside researchers from Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds to investigate and measure the impact of collisions in the sport.

The staff at Leeds Rhinos continue to undertake research focused on player performance, development, welfare and reducing injuries. The team from Leeds Beckett University supporting both staff and players at Leeds Rhinos, includes five PhD students and four academic staff, who all work within the club day to day, whilst undertaking scientific research. The team is led by Prof. Ben Jones from Leeds Beckett University, who is the Pathway Performance Director at Leeds Rhinos, and also Head of Performance (England Performance Unit) at the Rugby Football League.

Recently, the Leeds Rhinos and Leeds Beckett University team have been collaborating with University of Leeds and Prevent Biometrics mouthguard technology company to measure player collision events and direct head impacts during Super League matches and training during 2020. The project is led by Dr Dan Weaving (Leeds Beckett University and Leeds Rhinos) and Dr Greg Tierney (University of Leeds).

The Prevent Biometrics mouthguards are fitted with a number of sensors that can measure head acceleration and impact location during collision events. The team have been working to determine the accuracy of the mouthguard data, to measure collision events and direct contact with the head by assessing the data against video footage. The results of this work have shown that the mouthguards are accurate for measuring head impacts and collision events during rugby league matches.

Next season the project will continue to better understand the collision and impact events experienced by players during Super League matches and the potential factors that influence them. This will help develop the understanding of the collisions, head accelerations that players experience, and help players both prepare for them, whilst limiting unnecessary exposure.

In future, this data can be received by medical staff in real-time via a mobile application and has the potential as a useful tool in the understanding and management of head impacts and concussion, alongside established methods such as the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) tool.

This project builds on two research studies that were published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, undertaken by Dan and the team, in collaboration with Dr Rich Johnston from Australia Catholic University. The studies quantified the highest collision and running demands for players in both the Super League and the NRL.

Prof Ben Jones added, “Rugby League has always been a sport that is open to research and change to improve both the performance and wellbeing of players. We all recognise that Rugby League is tough, and that players train hard week in week out, to perform at their best. We also appreciate the sacrifices players make and that injuries do happen. There is a huge amount of research ongoing across Rugby League looking to monitor the load players are exposed to, specifically related to collisions in general but more specifically head collisions. 

“Everyone recognises that it is a fine balance between ensuring players are at their best both physically and mentally to perform in a match, whilst also making sure players find that balance in the week to recover. The work Dan, Greg and the team at Prevent Biometrics are doing is really important to not only the club, but also Rugby League as a game. We recognise that we need to understand the collisions players are exposed to, and this is an example of a study with help us do that.”