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The rugby league world was united in support for Alex McKinnon after confirmation the young Newcastle forward’s career had been ended by a spinal injury suffered in a tackle the NRL match review committee found too difficult to grade, referring it to a judiciary hearing.
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Phil Gould and Andrew Webster discuss on Tuesday the Alex McKinnon tackle and reflect upon a similar injury suffered by Phil in his playing days.
A Knights statement on Tuesday night said McKinnon had movement in his right arm and had undergone emergency surgery to stabilise his neck, which involved the removal of a disc at C4 and C5 anterior fusion.
Scans had earlier revealed he suffered fractures of his C4 and C5 vertebrae but his spinal cord was not severed.
However, further scans after the operation confirmed what the Knights statement described as a ‘‘devastating spinal injury’’. ‘‘Alex remains in hospital in intensive care and may require further surgery to stabilise his spine,’’ the statement said. ‘‘He has movement in his right arm and the uncertainty remains in regeneration, with a variable prognosis. The doctors explained regeneration and recovery could be up to two years.’’
Fairfax Media was told that McKinnon was in traction and heavily sedated to prevent movement. News of the injury sent shockwaves around the league world and there were also concerns for the welfare of Storm prop Jordan McLean, while the match review committee struggles to decide what charge to hit the 22-year-old rookie with as the offence was not what would be considered a classic spear tackle.
Fairfax Media was told that Newcastle players were taught to tuck their heads and roll to protect themselves when lifted in a tackle but McKinnon is thought to have become disorientated after McLean tipped him off balance after being held upright by Jesse and Kenny Bromwich.
The match review committee spent much of the day agonising over how to deal with the tackle before deciding at 5pm to refer McLean to a judiciary hearing to determine a penalty.
Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett said that in more than 50 years of coaching and playing he had never had to deal with such an injury.
‘‘Most of them you can fix up but I am just not sure how we can fix this one or where it will all finish,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘It is sad and we are extremely disappointed for him. He is getting the best care now and we are giving him all the support we possibly can. After that we just have to hope for the best for him.
‘‘It is tough on all of us, we are friends and mates and played in a football team together, and this doesn’t happen. Coaching has many twists and turns to it — this is just one of those things that aren’t in the coaching manual.
‘‘My whole life in football that is the first one I have been involved in or seen. I have coached and I have played since I was a little boy and it is the first time I have certainly been involved in anything like this or it has happened in any team Ihave been involved with so they are infrequent, thank God.’’
It is sad and we are extremely disappointed for him
Bennett, who first coached McKinnon at St George Illawarra in 2009, said: ‘‘If you asked me if he was one of my favourites I would probably say he was. He is an outstanding young man.’’
Rival players were shocked by McKinnon’s injury.
‘‘Being a good mate of Alex, it’s really tough to watch and you know I couldn’t watch the replays or anything like that and just thoughts go out to him and his family today,’’ Sydney Roosters lock Boyd Cordner said. ‘‘You know it’s obviously shocking news to happen to any player ... but to your mate it’s even more harder.’’
Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran said: ‘‘I think there would have been a lot of footballers sitting at home last night just reflecting on their careers and how lucky we are, you know to see that terrible accident happen to Alex last night ... Iknow I was sitting there thinking ‘you never know when it’s gonna end, that tackle like that – that can happen to anyone.’’
Mitchell Pearce echoed his teammate Cordner’s sentiment.
‘‘We were in Bali a couple of years ago together, he’s just a real good bloke so to watch him last night go like that. Everyone’s competitive but seeing someone go down hurt and potentially seeing them lost what their dream is [is] more important than footy and certainly makes you feel pretty sad about yourself.’’