Rugby league-St Helens 'outraged' by Hohaia concussion claims

March 20 (Reuters) - English rugby league club St Helens have reacted with "astonishment and outrage" at allegations by former New Zealand international Lance Hohaia that they told him to play while experiencing symptoms of concussions. Hohaia was the victim of the most savage attack ever seen at a Super League Grand Final in 2014 when Wigan's Ben Flowers knocked him out cold with a punch and then struck him in the face again when he was prone on the ground. The following season, Hohaia has alleged in an interview with New Zealand's Sunday Herald newspaper, the player requested a period of rest to recover from concussion symptoms but was offered prescription medicines and told to play on. Hohaia walked out on his contract at the Lancashire club in April 2015 and retired. "Hohaia's version of events at St Helens between the Grand Final in 2014 and his voluntary resignation without notice six months later is utterly inaccurate and malicious," the Super League club said in statement. "Throughout that time he received the highest level of professional support and empathy, both rugby and medical. "His subsequent version of ongoing 'concussive symptoms' were entirely retrospective and only raised by him at the end of that period. "At no time was he put under any pressure or duress by the club to play and he was provided with highest level of professional advice and support by the club. St Helens set the very highest standards in that regard." The dangers of concussions and head trauma suffered by athletes have become a major area of concern in contact sports, prompting many to change rules and adopt new protocols to ensure a higher level of player safety. American football's NFL last April settled a lawsuit brought by about 5,000 former players who accused it of covering up the dangers of concussions in a deal that could cost the league $1 billion. Hohaia, a utility back who also played for the New Zealand Warriors in Australia's National Rugby League and won the World Cup with his country in 2008, has now settled in the United States. Further describing his allegations as "grossly inaccurate and misrepresentative", St Helens suggested they would consider legal action to gain redress. "It is particularly despicable that he has publicly so wrongly and maliciously impugned St Helens ... simply because he was clearly not entitled to continue to be paid by the club after he voluntarily resigned," the statement said. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)