Asked his response to the ancient proverb, “Physician, heal thyself,” Hugh Hazard - rugby league’s longest serving doctor - says of his own aggressive cancer, “I’m no chance. I won’t be here for much longer. No treatment is possible. It’s all about managing the pain now.”
It was the typical unvarnished answer of the leaguie – the honesty which produces empathy. The shared pain was made more tolerable by the setting of our final chat: a Gladesville garden on a glorious sunny spring morning, black tea and chocolate biscuits and lorikeets demanding to be fed.
Dr Hazard, 77, joined Canterbury as their medico in 1973 and was chief medical officer at various times for the ARL, Super League and NRL, although his “chemo brain” gets dates mixed.
Yet who cares about dates now. Why, even the oft-told stories about him are wrong.
Former Kangaroos manager Geoff Carr claims Dr Hazard was the only medico he ever saw report to a match with nothing but the hotel sewing kit.
Hazard laughs and explains that the genesis of the story was a Canterbury end-of-season trip to Singapore, led by the late Peter “Bullfrog” Moore, the chief executive, and then captain, Dr George Peponis.
“They were sitting around the hotel pool and Bullfrog decided he would attempt a dive from the high board. He hit his head on the side of the pool. George pulled a piece of cotton from the hotel curtain and used the hotel needle you use to sew buttons to stitch him up. It was a good job, considering Bullfrog almost scalped himself.
"Unfortunately, Bullfrog didn’t look after the wound and it became infected. When he got back to Sydney, Bullfrog looked like he also had a frog on the top of his head and he came to my surgery. I fixed him up and he said, ‘Do you want a job?’ That’s how I became Canterbury’s doctor.
“Obviously, I did carry more than a sewing kit to games but I didn’t have a bag over both shoulders and a resuscitator.”
Yet, despite the perception of the Bulldogs as a hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners club, Dr Hazard maintains he was following concussion protocols ten years before today’s mandatory rules.
He researched the Sideline Assessment Concussion protocols used in the US and applied them to Canterbury players.
Yet he concedes to being “very surprised” that a post-mortem of former Canterbury forward Steve Folkes found evidence of CTE, a degenerative brain disease.
"I spoke to him a week before he died,” Dr Hazard explained. “There was no evidence of it in normal conversation. His family have subsequently said he often repeated stories but I suspect that was a joke thing that Steve did. The jury is still out on CTE.”
Hazard was destined to be a doctor who treated footballers. He first sat on a sideline at Lidcombe Oval as a 15 year old. “I was the little kid in the black and white uniform who was assistant to the zambuk,” he said in reference to the St Johns’ Ambulance man who attended games.
He convinced Super League to introduce unlimited interchanges in the interests of player welfare and, while he accepts “it took the warrior out of the game and TV didn’t like it,” doesn’t believe there should be any move from the current four replacements and eight interchanges.
Although proud of the code for the many improvements he has seen in medical protocols – “there were no stretchers at the old Sydney Showground and now they have medicarts” – he expressed frustration at some of the penny-pinching and chicanery.
“Some clubs didn’t want an ambulance at grounds because they didn’t want to pay for them. “(Bulldog forward) Geoff Robinson got a bad facial fracture at Henson Park and we had to throw him in the back of a ute and take him to hospital.
“I brought in the head bin to monitor concussion but then watched as Ronnie Gibbs was replaced three times by Manly in the 1987 grand final. I said to the NSWRL, ‘What are you going to do about this?’ and the answer was, ‘We can’t do anything. It’s a grand final.’”
A founding father of the Australian College of Sports Physicians and a former chairman of the Children in Sport committee of Sports Medicine, Australia, he can take comfort in the late afternoon of his life that he played a major role in improving the knowledge of the care of elite athletes.
“I never thought we would ever get to the stage where there was an independent doctor sitting on the sideline examining head injuries,” he said. “I think it’s great.”
And you, too, Hugh.
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News Best Posts in Thread: Pioneering work of Bulldogs' doc Hazard made rugby league safer
So sad to hear this. A very nice man who was always looking at the welfare of the players. Pretty sure that he never needled a player to get them back on the field, with him when you were gone you were gone.
Seems like a pretty philosophical type of guy..it is what it is and that is all there is to it. Facing the end of life with dignity and knowing there is nothing that can be done...hope that whatever time he has left on this earth is quality and as happy a time as it can be. Such a shitty disease cancer and now these days it is not just for those who smoke or drink excessively, if you are going to get it you will regardless of how you live your life.
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