Steve Folkes, the late, great Canterbury player and coach, is the first Australian rugby league player to be diagnosed with a brain disease commonly linked to repetitive head injury in American sports.
The local discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a degenerative brain disease most likely caused by repeated head traumas – in Folkes has huge ramifications for the National Rugby League.
Researchers and clinicians from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW Health Pathology and the University of Sydneys Brain and Mind Centre found evidence of CTE in two brains that were referred to them for diagnostic purposes.
Given confidentiality agreements and the sensitivities involved, the identities of the deceased players were not made public. The only information previously available was that they were middle-aged professionals who had played more than 150 first-grade games.
However, with the blessing of his family, The Sun-Herald can reveal that legendary former Canterbury, NSW and Australian forward Folkes was one of the players to present with CTE after it was diagnosed following a standard autopsy.
The premiership-winning player and coach died of a heart irregularity last year at the age of 59.
"Its been a tough 18 months without him and hopefully something positive can come from it," Folkes daughter, Hayley Shaw, said.
"Thats important to us and were pretty passionate about making something from it.
"We dont want to be alarming about it, but Dad had some problems and he looked after himself. If his story can help some of his mates and then help more research then thats what we want out of it."
Folkes was considered one of the toughest players of his generation, making 245 first-grade appearances for Canterbury between 1978 and 1991.
The NRL now has strict protocols regarding concussions. Club doctors and concussion spotters, both on the ground and in the bunker, quickly take players from the field for a head injury assessment if they are suspected to have sustained a concussion. However, in Folkes day it was a badge of honour to play on after suffering a head knock to ensure their team wasnt left a player short.
"They could get knocked out three or four times in a game and get a pat on the back," Folkes' son, Daniel, said.
Concussion management is one of the hottest topics in rugby league after three law firms announced plans to launch class actions against the NRL over its handling of head knocks. It is understood some of rugby leagues biggest namesRead More – Source