Luff and Tigers raring for strong finish

James Luff is ready and raring to lead the Gundagai Tigers into the final three rounds of the 2022 Group 9 season.

At his best, there is no better player in Group 9 than James Luff.

The two-time Weissel Medallist and multiple Group 9 premiership winner is known for his dynamic play from acting-half, accurate goal-kicking, and an unforgiving workload in defence, but it is this same playing style and work ethic that has seen the 28-year-old suffer more than his fair share of head knocks over the years.

Following some hard hits earlier this season, Luff was knocked out in round six when playing Wagga Kangaroos at Anzac Park, which led to an extended stint on the sideline.  

“I have had a fair few head knocks throughout the years, then I had a couple earlier this year before I got completely knocked out against Kangaroos,” Luff said.

“It was a bit of a concern and I wanted to make sure things were right before I came back.

“Then I had Covid in the interim and missed a few games there, and I ended up having about eight weeks off but missed four games with how the draw works this year.

“To be honest, the extra time off probably wasn’t a bad thing. I was able to get over Covid and get my head right for the back end of the year.”

While he concedes that concussions and head injuries are part and parcel of rugby league, Luff believes they are hard to manage and control, and he is concerned that current NSWRL guidelines don’t do enough to protect players from the long-term implications.

“After I got taken from the field, I had to have a week off, then had to be cleared by a doctor to play the following week, which I didn’t play because I was out for longer, so there are guidelines but there are a few grey areas,” Luff said.

“It is really judged on the individual, and unless they start doing CT scans on everyone, which don’t always show much, it can be hard to control it, and at the end of the day, it is up to the individual to look after themselves, and also the trainers and medical staff to take control of it a little bit.”

Luff said the potential long-term implications of consistent head knocks has him worried personally, and he highlighted that country rugby league players were as susceptible as professional players when it came to suffering long-term health issues

“You don’t need to play professionally to suffer head knocks and the long-term consequences,” Luff said. 

“You can play community rugby league and get head knocks and there can still be long-term implications and the research shows that there are those risks.

“Plus, there is that bit of a stigma for rugby league players wanting to show how tough they are, but we need to stop that and start looking after ourselves.”

Luff missed rounds 7 through to 11, but with a clear head, he made an early return in round 12, helping his Tigers to a 16-14 win over arch-rivals, Tumut.

The Gundagai hooker stressed that he was in a good place physically and mentally as his Tigers prepare for the final three rounds of the home and away season.

“I wasn’t going to come back until this weekend’s game against Young, but I wanted to get back for that local derby, and we got the win and now I’m really looking forward to getting into Young this weekend,” Luff said. 

“I’m feeling great and I’m glad I had the time off, and I’m ready to go for the rest of the season.”

Tigers with one hand on G9 Minor Premiership 

The Gundagai Tigers can more or less secure the Group 9 Minor Premiership on Sunday when hosting the Young Cherrypickers at Anzac Park in round 14 of the competition. 

With the likes of Nathan Rose and James Luff back from injury, the unbeaten Tigers sit atop of the table and three competition points ahead of the second-placed Cherrypickers and third-placed Temora Dragons.

Gundagai appear to be building nicely ahead of the Group 9 finals, and while Luff admitted that there will be a lot on the line when playing Young at home, he explained that his Tigers were focused on their own performance and not the opposition. 

“There is a lot on the line and I understand that the game is pretty big, and the elephant in the room for us is that we only have to win two of our next three games to win the Minor Premiership, but honestly, that isn’t our focus,” Luff said. 

“We have only played one game of footy in the last month, and we just want to get back to playing and get our footy legs back.

“Especially myself and Nathan Rose. We have missed some games with injury, and we want to get some games under our belts and get some good form heading into the final couple of games.

The NSW Country representative and Riverina captain/coach believes Young will be out for some revenge on Sunday, especially after the Tigers beat the Cherrypickers 36-14 back in round five, while the Tricolours will be smarting following their 24-14 loss to Tumut in round 13. 

“Young will be looking for a bit of redemption, and with the team they have on paper, they probably shouldn’t have been beaten,” Luff said. 

“They will be tough in the middle, but if our forwards can match them, I think we will be right.”

The top of the table first-grade clash headlines a huge Sunday at Anzac Park, with the first-placed Tigers playing the third-place Cherrypickers in the Weissel Cup, while in the Burmeister Shield contest, it is another top of the table clash and a replay of the drawn 2020 grand final. 

“It’s a massive day for everyone, and there will be a lot of good footy and I’m really looking forward to it,” Luff said.

Kick-off times

11am: Weissel Cup

12.10pm: League tag

1.25pm: Burmeister Shield

2.35pm: First-grade

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