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Judiciary to deal with facts and consequences of McKinnon tackle

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Spinal injury ends NRL career

NRL Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon is placed in an induced coma following a spinal injury suffered at the weekend.

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It was a terrible accident that could have unthinkable consequences for Alex McKinnon.

And much as McKinnon’s health and well-being, and the emotional state of his family and friends, are the immediate priorities, at some point in the not-too-distant a panel of men will be asked to preside over perhaps the toughest judiciary hearing in NRL history.

Newcastle's Alex McKinnon suffers the neck injury.

Newcastle's Alex McKinnon suffers the neck injury. Photo: Fox Sports

The tackle that left the rugged Newcastle Knights utility in hospital with two fractured vertebrae, facing an uncertain fate, was not blatant foul play.

At first glance it appeared innocuous.

If it was not for the fact that McKinnon was unable to regain his feet, it may not have even warranted a penalty.

Newcastle's Alex McKinnon is tackled by the Storm's Jordan McLean.

Newcastle's Alex McKinnon is tackled by the Storm's Jordan McLean. Photo: Fox Sports

But slow-motion replays show graphically what a perilous incident this was.

In quick succession:

  • McKinnon, with a full head of steam, tries to step his way between Melbourne Storm defenders Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich and Jordan McLean.
  • At the moment of impact, he twists his body sideways, as players are coached to do.
  • The Bromwich brothers, by this stage, have wrapped themselves around McKinnon’s upper torso.
  • McLean then grabs McKinnon’s right leg, leaving his left leg as a fulcrum.
  • The momentum is all with McKinnon but given that his right leg is waist high, and firmly in McLean’s grasp, and two big men are wrapped around his chest, gravity starts to take effect.
  • In a split-second, he topples head-first towards the turf and at the last instant tries to duck and roll onto his shoulder.
  • Instead his head crashes into the ground, with the full bodyweight of the three defenders – 337 kilograms – landing squarely on top of him.

McLean was subsequently placed on report for a dangerous throw, but any judiciary hearing has been deferred out of respect to McKinnon’s family.

Whatever charge McLean ends up facing, the judiciary members face a quandary.

This was not a brazen spear tackle, a grapple, a crusher or a cannonball.

It was not deliberate.

It was more an example of modern techniques gone wrong – defenders trying desperately to flip an attacker onto his back in a gang tackle; the man with the ball intent on landing chest first, on his elbows, for a quick play-the-ball.

But it was still, in the view of the match officials, a breach of the rules. Lifting tackles are an infringement.

And regardless of the lack of malice, NRL law enforcers have shown that their duty of care incorporates considering any injuries a player may incur from foul play.

In the match review committee’s official guidelines, it states: ‘‘When required to ascribe a grading for an offence, the match-review committee shall have regard to ... Whether an opposition player was injured in the incident giving rise to the charge.’’

As Glenn Jackson explained in the Sydney Morning Herald last year: ‘‘Effectively, the match reviewers cannot charge a player as a result of the injuries, but once he is charged, they can attach a higher grading as a result of them.’’

The Knights know this all too well.

Last year they lost Kade Snowden to a seven-game suspension after breaking North Queensland hooker Ray Thompson’s jaw with a shoulder change.

Snowden was heavily punished for two reasons. Firstly because two previous offences increased the loading on his charge, but also because Thompson’s horrific injuries were taken into account.

Now the authorities must evaluate an even more confounding dilemma.

Thompson’s injury was traumatic but he was always going to recover and resume his career.

After sustaining what the Knights have labelled ‘‘a devastating spinal injury’’ that has left him facing ‘‘a variable prognosis’’, McKinnon’s career appears almost certainly over.

We can only hope he is able to one day walk and lead a relatively normal life.

In the meantime, the NRL’s justice system will come under scrutiny.

Accidents happen in all walks of life.

But if laws are broken in the process, society demands that it is not only the victim left to deal with the consequences.

Newcastle Herald

16 comments so far

  • Why was the Melbourne player not Sent Off? A Newcastle player was sent off last year for a shoulder charge (and rightly so) that broke a player's jaw yet here we have something far more serious yet he stays on the paddock. Was it because the indicent last year drew blood? I hope not but that is the only conclusion that can be drawn.

    Commenter
    Quandary
    Date and time
    March 26, 2014, 11:25AM
    • It is an incredibly sad state of affairs and I'm sure everyone hopes and prays for Alex's recovery. I do not believe it was deliberate as well. However, it was a lifting tackle. What has to be done to stop this?
      Also, I find it hard to understand why SMH put a poll on the end of this article. Seems totally unrelated to me and somewhat insensitive.

      Commenter
      Domino
      Location
      Palmyra
      Date and time
      March 26, 2014, 11:26AM
      • This tackle is the perfect example why referees penalise any player for lifting a player. Although Cam Smith argued (in poor taste mind you) that McKinnon puts his head in the wrong position, the outcome was a result of Jordan McLean's action. I know the circumstances are the extreme but if Jordan McLean does not put his arm in between the legs and lifts him, McKinnon plays on and the incident doesn't happen. This is no different as the outcomes from a head tackle. Some result in fractured cheekbones while others the players are unhurt and the judicary punishes accordingly. Although I feel his punishment should be lengthy, I do feel for Jordan McLean as he will forever have this hanging over him as he has potentially changed McKinnon's life.

        Commenter
        Jezza
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        March 26, 2014, 11:31AM
        • i hope Cameron Smith has a long hard think about his actions, trying to talk his team out of a penalty when a player is lying on the ground with obvious serious injuries inflicted by his team mates. That was a disgraceful act. Smith saying "Nobody likes to see this, BUT" is up there with the old "I am Sorry, BUT" copout. It seems to be everybody else's fault but the Melbourne Storm in any of these situations.

          Commenter
          John
          Date and time
          March 26, 2014, 11:32AM
          • Having watched the video a few times, from all angles.....it is clear he was lifted by the No.16 player wrapping his left hand up over the left thigh of McKinnon.
            The combined weight of the 3 players tackling McKinnon, would have been close to 250kg's!
            1/4 of a tonne......with momentum!!!
            We know the result, a young talented player is lost to the game he loved!
            Hopefully he will be able to walk and regain full mobility for the rest of his life.

            Lets remove this dangerous and unnecessary play from the game.

            Commenter
            Spinal Tap
            Date and time
            March 26, 2014, 11:35AM
            • In what NRL universe is lifting a player above the horizontal, particularly with a hand between the legs, not an instant penalty irrespective of whether there is an injury to the attacking player? I understand that by watering down the Storm players' culpability in this case (because it doesn't change the dreadful outcome) commentators are showing compassion to the Storm tackler(s). But I really think it would be better to say nothing at all because IMO the take home message seems to be "this tackle was OK it just all went a bit wrong" when in fact this tackle is bloody awful. Thoughts are with you Alex.

              Commenter
              Ray Man
              Location
              BM
              Date and time
              March 26, 2014, 11:40AM
              • 3 guys picking a bloke up and driving him to the ground, is that how a tackle should be conducted. And Cameron Smith's defence to the referee, was that the player shouldnt have tucked his head in.

                When are we going to ban 3 on 1, the max in a tackle should be 2 on 1 and the rule of yelling out held should be used more often to prevent accidents where its clear the player can't be tackled safely.

                The player in particular who picked up Alex by the legs and lifted him partially upright should have his player license revoked and banned from all levels of Rugby League and Union, and any other contact sport, lets make an example to others in the sport that this is not tolerated.

                When players are on the field they are at the office, the opposing player is still a work colleague albeit a competitor, each player must have have a duty of care to one another and not conduct tackles in this way, or to conduct themselves in a manner that has the potential to cause serious injury to others.

                Yes its a tough game, for tough men no question, but you can play hard and tough but in a manner that does not cause serious injury to another player, your work colleague.

                Its high time that independent statutory authorities impose upon the NRL the idea that play that causes such injury is punishable by law.

                Commenter
                Frank Ernest
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                March 26, 2014, 11:45AM
                • There is just no need for 3 players to make this tackle. too much weight and too many forces at work .why does a 3rd player need to grab one of his legs to make a tackle ? The NRL need to get rid of all this nonesne in the tackles that Melbourne actaully brought into the game

                  Commenter
                  Me
                  Date and time
                  March 26, 2014, 11:53AM
                  • I don't think that a photo of Alex's head being driven into the ground on the front page of this site is being sensitive to his family and friends.

                    Commenter
                    Jess
                    Date and time
                    March 26, 2014, 11:56AM
                    • The first line of this article states that it was a terrible accident, but he finishes of piece by demanding justice? Either it was an accident or it wasn't. You can't have it both ways

                      Commenter
                      Vlad
                      Date and time
                      March 26, 2014, 12:05PM

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