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Coronial inquest on Manly Sea Eagles player Keith Titmuss: findings relayed

Loved ones of Manly Sea Eagles rising star Keith Titmuss will finally receive answers about his death, more than three years after he collapsed during pre-season training.

Keith Titmuss lost consciousness immediately after a 139-minute training session at the team’s headquarters on Sydney’s northern beaches on November 23, 2020.

On Friday, Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee will deliver his findings on the 20-year-old’s cause of death and the circumstances surrounding the tragic event.

The forensic investigation, which lasted weeks, heard from several experts who concluded that the young striker was suffering from exertional heatstroke when he collapsed and had a seizure.

Keith Titmuss died after collapsing during preseason training in November 2020.Source: Supplied

He had been training for more than two hours in the first preseason session of the year, which included both an outdoor session and an indoor session in a “hot and stuffy” gym.

One of the questions the coroner will consider is whether the training was too demanding for someone with Mr Titmuss’ fitness level and physical build.

The investigation found that Titmuss had gained ten pounds during the offseason and his fitness test results suggested he was “the least fit member of the team.”

Counsel assisting the coroner, Adam Casselden SC, was of the opinion that the “unnecessarily and inappropriately harsh” session highlighted the need for individualized training programs tailored to each player’s build and fitness level.

Experts told the inquest that Mr Titmuss’ greater body mass and lower levels of aerobic fitness were risk factors that contributed to him overheating from exertion on the “mild” 24C day.

One of the paramedics who treated the 20-year-old while he suffered seizures measured his temperature at almost 42C, which was the highest they had ever seen.

He played for Hunters Hill rugby club as a teenager.Source: Supplied
He was about to become a Manly Sea Eagle.Source: Supplied

In his closing submissions, Mr Casselden suggested Coroner Lee should recommend that Manly and the NRL use Mr Titmuss’ tragic death as a case study for heat illness education and awareness.

It made a series of recommendations on how to improve the NRL’s heat policy which are linked to an ongoing independent review by two heat illness experts who were commissioned by the NRL.

Casselden suggested clarifying heat guidelines applicable to indoor and outdoor training sessions, as well as modifying training sessions based on environmental factors.

He also backed a mandatory two-week acclimatization period after players return to training following an offseason and a requirement that a medical officer approve training programs.

Another key focus should be to implement screening to determine which players are at risk for heat illness and classify them to ensure personalized training sessions, Casselden said.

Mr Titmuss’ family called on the NRL to enforce mandatory reporting of all heat-related injuries to create a comprehensive understanding of the pervasiveness of the problem.

Mr Titmuss’s parents, Paul and Lafo Titmuss, attended every day of the inquest. Image: NCA NewsWire / Christian GillesSource: News Corp Australia

His mother, Lafo, previously said she hoped the investigation could lead to changes in the sport her son loved so much.

“We are encouraged by the NRL’s internal review and its commitments to improving its knowledge and understanding among all clubs, staff and players,” he said.

“We hope the findings of this research are instructive not only for the NRL, but for the sport in Australia and around the world.”

At the time of his death, Titmuss was on the cusp of his big break after being elevated to the team’s top 30.

Throughout the investigation he was described as “kind”, “gentle” and “a genuine guy”, “a hard worker” and liked by his teammates and friends.

Coroner Derek Lee will reveal whether he has adopted the suggestions made to him when he presents his findings at the New South Wales State Coroner’s Court on Friday morning.