Calls to introduce an 18th man for concussion or injury have grown louder after Cronulla were forced to play the second half of their 28-4 loss to Parramatta with no bench.
In what is shaping up as a bloodbath round of injuries in the NRL, the Sharks lost four players in the first half at Bankwest Stadium – three to concussion and one with a knee injury.
Captain Wade Graham, second-rower Briton Nikora and fullback Will Kennedy all failed head injury assessments in the first half, while lone-scorer Sione Katoa was carried from the field with a PCL injury after 23 minutes.
It left the Sharks with no reserves and facing the risk of finishing with fewer than 13 players on the field as they conceded three tries for the second half while praying for no further serious injuries.
It was a brave effort from Cronulla to play out the final 40 minutes, with big men Aaron Woods, Braden Hamlin-Uele and Toby Rudolf all robbed of a spell.
For the Eels, Blake Ferguson finished off a double in the second half, while prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard stormed onto a ball from Junior Paulo to punish tired defenders with seven minutes left on the clock.
Star winger Maika Sivo resumed his ritual of scoring at Bankwest, while Ray Stone nabbed a rare four-pointer after a 30m run with three minutes left in the game.
But while the win has given the Eels an unbeaten start to the year, the romance of their night was overtaken by a horror injury toll sweeping the game.
The debate had flickered in the NRL over recent weeks after the AFL introduced an injury substitution for players ruled out of the game.
At the end of the third day of play in round three, the NRL’s injury toll is soaring and the conversation on player welfare has roared back into life.
The carnage at Bankwest Stadium came directly after Canberra’s loss to the Warriors earlier in the day where the Raiders finished with just one man on the bench as players stayed on the field with injuries.
Already big names including Ben Hunt (leg), Luke Keary (ACL), Dylan Edwards (hand), Michael Morgan (shoulder), Lachlan Lam (MCL) and Lindsay Collins (concussion) have suffered injuries over the weekend.
The Eels were brave in their own right, with halfback Mitchell Moses withdrawn after 25 minutes after copping a knee to the head while attempting a low tackle on Sharks forward Jack Williams.
The star halfback initially refused to come off, but was clearly concussed and taken to the sideline by the Eels trainer where he failed his HIA.
The Eels have a nine-day turnaround before they play the Wests Tigers on Easter Monday, which is enough time for Moses to pass concussion protocols if he does not suffer any setbacks during the week.
Meanwhile, the Sharks will play North Queensland on the Sunshine Coast next Saturday with question marks over a number of players.