Charlie Ngatai: Rugby needs more concussion awareness

Charlie Ngatai. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Charlie Ngatai. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Charlie Ngatai has admitted he contemplated quitting rugby as a result of his battle with concussion symptoms.

Ngatai played for the first time in 11 months last Saturday for University in Waikato club rugby, after concussion issues that left the one-cap All Black fearing his career was over.

The Chiefs midfielder told Tony Veitch on Newstalk ZB that the mental toll from his time away from the game had him thinking about hanging up his boots.

"I thought about it really hard at one stage," said Ngatai. "With the concussion, you just ask yourself 'Can you keep taking knocks each week and go through that again?'

"I had a lot of headaches, dizziness; you just don't feel like yourself. There was a lot of anxiety, worry, frustration - a lot of symptoms that you couldn't control. You ask yourself 'Why you? How does this go away?' I guess that was the hardest - knowing when you're going to come right, or if you're going to come right.

"You just don't know because it is frustrating. You put your body through so much physical change in a rugby career and you just can't keep doing it to yourself."

Listen to the full interview here:

Ngatai said life took a sharp turn after his concussion injury and life on the sidelines caused some depression.

"My partner noticed a big change in my personality. I was just really grumpy at home and depressed, wanted to be alone. I just wasn't myself, but she stuck strong and helped me through it all and I'm really thankful for that."

With former All Black James Broadhurst being the latest of several New Zealand rugby players to recently retire due to the lingering effects of concussion, Ngatai knows how important it is to raise awareness, urging the rugby community to 'wise up' about the risks of concussion concerns in the New Zealand game.

"I was at a rugby game the other day - a First XV game - watching and overhearing people talking about a player that had made a massive tackle," Ngatai said.

"I happened to look over and he just looked dazed and wobbling around the field. I was sitting there watching and five minutes later no one said or did anything. So I ended up walking on the field and told him to get off and told the ref he was concussed. So it's not just the players, it's the supporters, coaches and fans that have to notice these things too.

"It's a matter of life and death really; everyone has to do a little bit of homework on concussion."

Ngatai has now played three games in the past week, including a game at first five for University yesterday. He is not aiming to be rushed back into the Chiefs, nor is he thinking about the All Blacks. Instead, a preferable pathway is to regain match fitness at club level before transitioning back into the Chiefs later in May. If all goes well, then the Maori All Blacks and Chiefs' clashes with the Lions in June could be realistic goals.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie is excited and relieved about Ngatai's return to the field.

"There was a lot of self-doubt about whether he would play again; it's been a long process. He's been doing contact work for about a month just to make sure he's really confident and getting his body back in the right sort of shape," Rennie told Radio Sport.

"For me, he was one of the best players in Super Rugby last year until he got injured; he's got a massive amount to offer New Zealand rugby so [it's] hugely exciting for us if we can get him back for the second half of the comp."​

- NZ Herald

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