The lawyer representing James McManus in his Supreme Court concussion claim against Newcastle believes the former State of Origin winger could have played on for another two seasons in the NRL and then continued his career in the Super League in England had he not been forced into retirement.
McManus's action against the Knights came before Justice Ian Harrison, briefly, for the first time on Friday and while the 31-year-old, who still works for Newcastle, was not in court in Sydney his solicitor said the landmark case could prompt others to take action.
"I think it's certainly possible," said Doug Williams of Slater and Gordon outside the court. "It's the first high-profile matter in Australia that we're aware of in respect to concussions. I certainly think there are other players out there that are considering their rights."
Williams said he was not sure the extent of the damages McManus would be seeking in his negligence claim against the Knights which relates to allegations of how the club managed his head knocks over four seasons before his NRL career came to an end in 2015 when McManus was 29. But he estimates the player could have continued for another two years in the NRL and then played in the Super League in England had his condition not led him into retirement.
"A lot of that will depend on the medical evidence when it comes in," Williams said. "There will be medical evidence from neurologists, from psychiatrists...once all that medical evidence comes in, we'll then be in a better position to determine what the claim might be worth."
The case was adjourned until June 23 and in court Justice Harrison asked Williams whether McManus' claim would fall outside the provisions for dangerous recreational activities in the Civil Liability Act. That law states that a defendant is "is not liable in negligence for harm suffered....as a result of the materialisation of an obvious risk of a dangerous recreational activity engaged in by the plaintiff".
Williams said outside court: "Certainly there are implications in terms of dangerous recreational activities. Having said that, effectively we are...engaged in employment and contracted to the Newcastle Knights."
McManus' claim will allege Newcastle breached its duty of care to him in its handling of his concussions, citing a series of incidents from 2012 to 2015 including a semi-final against Canterbury in 2013 in which he claims he was told to play out the match after a head knock. Another incident cited in his case is from Newcastle's match against the Warriors in the first round of 2015 when he was sidelined with what was reported as a suspected broken nose but returned to the field and played 68 minutes of the game.
The Knights are yet to file a defence – they have been given until June 9 – but the club's chairman Brian McGuigan has already vehemently denied any negligence.
Williams said McManus' life now was "difficult".
"He has a serious medical condition. He's got objective signs of a brain injury, he suffers from mood swings. He's doing it tough, he really is," he said.
"He's got a young family, a family that he has to support, and they are his number one priority."