Footballers' painful wait for surgery

David Russell jr, of Woonona, is one of several young football players who have ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments that are not covered by rugby league insurance. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

David Russell jr, of Woonona, is one of several young football players who have ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments that are not covered by rugby league insurance. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Several teenage rugby league players are being forced to wait for surgery on debilitating knee injuries because insurance for the sport is inadequate.

The parents of two Illawarra juniors contacted the Mercury after reading about 15-year-old Adrian Dalmonte, who will be forced to wait a year for surgery after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) at football training three weeks ago.

Like Adrian's mum, Sandra, they wrongly assumed their sons' injuries would be covered by the Country Rugby League of NSW's insurance policy.

Under the insurance, players are only eligible for $2500 per injury and a total of $4000 annually, far less than the $10,000 needed for knee surgery.

"We're all led to believe the kids are insured; we pay our fees and we're all just finding out now that they're not [fully] insured," Woonona father David Russell said.

His 15-year-old son, David Russell jr, sustained a serious knee injury playing for the Woonona Bulli Bushrangers in a trial match almost seven months ago.

"He had a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, his medial [collateral] ligament was starting to tear off at the bone - David's injuries are a disaster," Mr Russell said.

"He probably won't ever play again because his injury has lasted this long; his specialist was worried about him ending up with a short leg.

"If I knew about the insurance I wouldn't have ever let him play."

As a pensioner and single father-of-five, Mr Russell could not afford the $10,000-plus surgery bill.

As a result, David jr's love of football and athletics has been put on hold until at least early 2016.

It is a similar story for Gerringong Lions' player Jackson Hannah, who snapped his ACL during a training exercise at a NSW Country Rugby League academy camp in Berry last November.

The 16-year-old is unlikely to be operated on until at least March 2015.

"It was pretty depressing knowing I wouldn't be able to play footy for a while ... but I'll actually miss out for three seasons in total, which is not great," Jackson said. "A while ago at school it collapsed and I fell down the stairs in the [quadrangle], which was pretty embarrassing, and very painful.

"Sometimes it will just hurt and I'll need to stretch it out, but it has started to cause really bad back pain from favouring one leg over another. It's not very comfortable."

Jackson's mum, Dianne, has been claiming his physiotherapy costs via the insurance but said the surgery costs were too high to consider having it done privately.

"I'm sure there are a lot more people than [Adrian Dalmonte] and Jackson who have got injuries like this and have to be on the waiting list because the insurance doesn't cover it," she said.

CRL boss explains injury insurance cover

The Country Rugby League of NSW is upfront about its insurance coverage and the $2500 cap on injury claims, a spokesman has said.

CRL operations manager Robert Lowrie said the league’s policy with insurance body SLE provides help with non-medicare expenses like private hospitalisation, theatre costs, pharmacy, ambulance, physiotherapy and dentistry but is capped at $2500 per injury and $4000 annually.

Pamphlets containing this information are sent to clubs, to be forwarded on to parents.

Mr Lowrie said the insurance premium – around $25 for a 15-year-old – is built into the club registration fees which can often be misinterpreted by parents.

‘‘The clubs charge varying rates for registration which incorporates the $25 insurance fee...but the misconception from the parents is that all of that money is insurance, which is not,’’ he said.

‘‘The scheme that we’ve got can be as good as anyone wants it, provided they’re willing to pay a premium, which is no different to your house insurance or car insurance. 

‘‘We strongly urge people to be in private health care and also in addition to that, if you’re an income earner, you should have income protection. ‘‘

The league has more than 56,000 registered players, which makes communicating with each player directly difficult for the CRL, Mr Lowrie said. 

Information about the insurance is available on the CRL’s website at crlnsw.com.au 

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