RUGBY league has come a long way in a relatively short space of time in the understanding and handling of concussions.
But it is likely to be decades before medical experts are even close to gaining a comprehensive grasp of the myriad issues surround head knocks in collision sports, according to Newcastle neuropsychologist Dr Andrew Gardner.
Gardner, along with another Novocastrian, Professor Chris Levi, was appointed this week to a new NRL research team, working in conjunction with colleagues from Harvard Medical School, to investigate the effects of concussion on current and former players.
The NRL has provided an initial grant of $250,000 for the Retired Professional Rugby League Players Brain Healthy Study, which Gardner said is "going to have a huge impact in terms of the number of participants we're able to get through the research program".
But anyone hoping for rapid breakthroughs should think again, says Gardner, who has already spent more than 10 years working as a researcher and clinician in the sports-concussion field.
"What we need to do is conduct a study where we're looking at children who are playing contact sports who have never had a concussion before," Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.
"Then we'll characterise their concussions and follow them up throughout their entire lifetime, especially when it happens on multiple occasions. Then have them donate their brains to science and we have a better understanding of the full spectrum of the life span.
"That's a study that's going to take multiple researchers and multiple generations.
"So we won't have cause-and-effect answers for one-and-a-half to two generations of players coming through.
"But what we need to do is get as much knowledge as we can, under the limitations that we have, to advance our health care of the current players at the moment, and also the retired players."
Gardner said it would be impossible to completely safeguard against concussions, given the nature of rugby league, but he doubts that research would ever recommend the abolition of such sports.
"The biggest thing is being able identify those who may be more vulnerable, and allowing them to make an informed choice about whether they want to allow themselves to continue to be exposed to certain risk factors," he said.
"It's a fact that it's a contact and collision sport.
"There's no way of having no concussions at all.
"But what they need to do is manage the concussions well that do occur. I think all sports, and particularly rugby league, have done a fantastic job of improving their policies around concussion identification and management at the elite level."
Gardner said he had already assessed more than 100 rugby league players and the new funding would enable "one of the largest and most comprehensive" studies in the world.