Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Pardon the interruption but Charlie Ngatai should have retired

Is Charlie Ngatai's return to rugby really something to celebrate? Photo / photosport.nz
Is Charlie Ngatai's return to rugby really something to celebrate? Photo / photosport.nz

Hardly a day goes by without the topic of sports concussion raising its tragic head.

The horrific truth is everywhere, potential solutions in short supply, although a small group of American football players - with some scientific backing - want more research conducted into the possibility that cannabis contains a substance which can give them a neural protector.

There will be plenty more tragedies before progress is made, sadly.

I read, almost with horror, that one-test All Black Charlie Ngatai has returned to rugby. After a few club games, he is back with the Chiefs. Coach Dave Rennie says the superb midfielder is in "good nick". But when it comes to the brain, how does anyone really know?

It's a year since Ngatai was forced to step away from the game because of a concussion. He suffered headaches, dizziness, and most significantly a big change in his personality, according to the man himself.

There has been depression, a feeling of wanting to isolate, grumpiness. These sound like the symptoms of people involved in bad motorcycle accidents.

Ngatai's honesty is to be applauded. It may play a part in helping others. But the thought of him returning to the field makes me cringe, wince.

It is a very difficult situation for a man like Ngatai. He is an outstanding test prospect, a player who has yet to fulfil his playing destiny. At 26, he has yet to cash in on that potential, financially.

This is another man's medical situation, normally a private concern. But as spectators, fans, witnesses to these incidents, we have a right to a say.

The precise link between concussion-related dementia may be hard to pin down, but that link is undeniable. What we are learning, is that high impact sport is a game of Russian roulette in terms of future brain health, and that cases of dementia among ex-footballers is more widespread than previously imagined. We at least have a duty to keep ensuring that parents and youngsters know that.

Ngatai's symptoms were severe. The brain is a mystery. It is a tough call, but I believe he should have given rugby away.

The case of Parramatta league wing Semi Radrada is a reminder of the right people - including footballers - have to a presumption of innocence when facing court charges.

Radrada was dropped from Kangaroos consideration last year because he faced domestic violence charges. Those charges have just been dropped, with a court hearing that his former partner wanted more child support payments. She admitted to attempting some media manipulation in an effort to get that.

Kiwi Shaun Kenny-Dowall was in a similar situation two years ago. The Roosters did the right thing by continuing to select him, once Kenny-Dowall was in the right frame of mind.

He was subsequently found not guilty on domestic violence charges with the magistrate saying that his former girlfriend was "not a reliable witness", describing her as "opportunistic and deceitful".

One high profile Sydney Australian newspaper columnist had claimed Kenny-Dowall should be suspended from playing prior to the court case. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

NRL boss Todd Greenberg had claimed that Radrada would not be selected for Australia because the pending court case would distract the player and the national team.

I don't believe Greenberg for one moment. Radrada was excluded to protect the game's image. Innocent until proven guilty is a very important concept, one that league should respect and protect.

The Warriors are not happy with some of the media coverage they have been getting around Kieran Foran's situation.

They have no right to complaint, because signing a player who starts talking with other clubs after a handful of games deserves critical scrutiny.

But give Warriors boss Jim Doyle this. The Roger Tuivasa-Sheck signing is a masterstroke. The young captain has been brilliant this season. His work rate alone is staggering. He gives everything to every moment of every game, with and without the ball.

If RTS stays long term, he is well on the way to being their greatest acquisition.

Ben Matulino - just back from injury - holds the key to the Warriors season. If Matulino gets close to his best, the Warriors will get enough out of their props to set a platform which can get them into the top eight. Without Big Ben firing, they will fall short.

James Gavet has shown a lot of life so far, but the signs are his form will ebb and flow. Matulino at his best is among the very best. With his future assured next year under his favourite coach Ivan Cleary at Wests Tigers, Matulino will feel free to find his best form. And if Matulino fires up, it may also help Gavet to stay in top gear.

Finally, a prediction.

The Kiwis will win the final Anzac test, in Canberra, on Friday night. There will be the usual hoo-ha for a couple of days, before test league sinks back into the undergrowth.

International league was always an erratic beast, and is wobbly because Australia refused to protect it while the irrepressible State of Origin series now dominates.

Forces beyond the game's control, with most Kiwi players rising out of Australian club ranks, have also softened the "them and us" battle lines.

While tests are consigned to the period after the NRL grand final, they will come across as second rate. There is not a totally logical explanation for this, but that's the way it is in rugby league.

The Anzac test concept has been a bit of a dud because the Kiwis play so poorly in them. But something tells me they will finish with a flourish. Australia have picked a few players not in best form.

- NZ Herald

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