KNIGHTS coach Wayne Bennett believed referees Brett Suttor and Ashley Klein failed in their duty of care for Kyle O’Donnell by allowing play to continue after the rookie forward was knocked senseless in Newcastle’s 34-14 loss to South Sydney at ANZ Stadium yesterday.
O’Donnell, who played just nine minutes, was knocked out in a head clash with Rabbitohs prop Sam Burgess in the 69th minute, when Souths led by the final score.
To read Brett Keeble's match report, click here
The English Test front-rower drilled the 21-year-old debutant with a shoulder charge from the kick-off following Aku Uate’s second try two minutes earlier.
Souths picked up the loose ball and made several passes close to the Newcastle line before spilling the ball.
At that point, Suttor returned to O’Donnell, who was already being attended to on the ground by several Knights teammates.
Click on the image above for more pictures of the game.
Knights captain Danny Buderus protested on the field, asking Suttor: ‘‘Haven’t you got a duty of care to look after one of our players?’’
Suttor replied: ‘‘Danny, we can’t just stop play.’’
Bennett said it was ridiculous the referees did not stop play immediately.
‘‘Everybody in the ground knew what had happened,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s laying on the ground there and they’re letting the game play and it wasn’t that the game was 10-all or something as well.
‘‘I mean, the NRL’s at us all the time about player welfare, well we’ve all got to take a bit of responsibility for it.
‘‘You can’t just leave it up to the coaches and the players. Referees have got to buy into it too.’’
Bennett did not suggest there was anything sinister in Burgess’s tackle but ‘‘if that’s not a reason to stop the game, then we’ll never have a reason’’.
‘‘The only guy that’s got control at that moment is the referee, to blow the whistle and stop the game,’’ he said.
‘‘Souths lose no advantage except they don’t get the continuity of the play. They’d obviously get the knock-on [by Newcastle] so they’d get the scrum feed.
‘‘I think everybody in the game, I think every ref in the game would be prepared to accept that for the safety of their player.’’
Bennett said his players were forced to decide whether to help a stricken teammate or defend their line.
O’Donnell, who became the Knights’ 236th first-grader, was taken to hospital for scans and later released and spent the night with family in Sydney. He is unlikely to be considered for Newcastle’s next assignment, against Manly at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
‘‘He’s still suffering from a severe bout of concussion in there,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘He’s conscious but he’s not totally with it.’’
Before he was helped from the field with blood trickling down his nose, unaware of where he was, O’Donnell made a half-break in the lead-up to Uate’s second try, and helped reel in a runaway Greg Inglis to jolt the ball loose in the tackle. Souths coach Michael Maguire believed the officials acted appropriately.
‘‘Things happen that quick on the field,’’ he said. ‘‘I think at the end of the day, the refs saw it, they looked at the replay and there was nothing in it.
‘‘Those sorts of plays are happening that quick out there, they obviously stopped on the next play and went straight back to it. It happens quick.
‘‘It was unfortunate, and as a team we don’t like seeing those sorts of things happen to other players, but it did and the refs stopped it straight away when they could.’’
Souths skipper Michael Crocker said he knew O’Donnell was injured ‘‘but it’s the same as every other play, you don’t stop until the play’s over’’.
‘‘He’s dropped the ball there and I thought the referees did ... the right thing letting them play on, then review it at the end of it,’’ Crocker said.