Knights say McKinnon could face more surgery, two-year recovery

ALEX McKinnon is in intensive care and may require further surgery to stabilise his spine, The Knights said on Tuesday night.

The Newcastle forward had emergency surgery to stabilise his neck, which consisted of a disc removal at C4 and C5 and anterior fusion.

“Alex had additional scans on Tuesday afternoon, which confirmed a devastating spinal injury,’’ The Knights said in a statement.

“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.”

His family and club officials are with McKinnon in hospital.

Joey Leilua of the Knights fends off Mahe Fonua of the Storm   at Melbourne's AAMI Park on Monday night. Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Joey Leilua of the Knights fends off Mahe Fonua of the Storm at Melbourne's AAMI Park on Monday night. Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

EARLIER REPORT:

Alex McKinnon suffers vertebrae fractures in Knights loss, video 

By Brett Keeble

THE Newcastle Knights have confirmed Country Origin back-rower Alex McKinnon has suffered two fractured vertebrae in his neck but are unsure about the level of damage to his spinal cord.

McKinnon suffered the injury when he was driven head-first into the ground by three Melbourne forwards in the final seconds of the first half of Newcastle's 28-20 loss to the Storm at AAMI Park on Monday night.

The 22-year-old Aberdeen junior was placed in a neck brace and taken from the field on a stretcher, then was taken by ambulance to the Alfred Hospital for X-rays.

In a statement issued on Tuesday morning, the Knights said: "Scan results for Alex McKinnon confirm a fracture at C4 and C5. His spinal cord is not severed but the doctors are unsure about the level of spinal cord compromise.

"It will be a number of days or weeks until the extent of his injury is known.

"Alex's family have now arrived in Melbourne and are with him, along with club doctor Peter McGeoch and club officials.

"When there is additional information, an update will be provided.

"We ask that any reporting of this delicate matter be handled with respect to Alex and his family."

"Scan results for Alex McKinnon confirm a fracture at C4 and C5. His spinal cord is not severed but the doctors are unsure about the level of spinal cord compromise."

Newcastle Knights

NRL chief executive Dave Smith said the thoughts of the entire rugby league community were with McKinnon, his family and friends.

‘‘The doctors have advised that it will be a number of days or weeks until the extent of his injury is known,’’ Smith said.

‘‘The NRL and the league community will do whatever we can to support Alex and his family during this time.’’

Smith said spinal injuries were extremely rare in rugby league and it was clear that everyone on the field was distressed at McKinnon’s injury.

‘‘Our entire focus is on Alex’s wellbeing and we wish him a full recovery,’’ Smith said.

A Melbourne Storm statement said chief executive Mark Evans had spoken to Knights boss Matt Gidley on Tuesday morning.

Evans said the club would work with the NRL and the Knights to offer ongoing support.

"The entire Storm family wishes Alex a full recovery," he said in a statement.

NEWCASTLE’S third-straight loss took a back seat to concern over the health of Knights back-rower Alex McKinnon after Melbourne won a see-sawing contest 28-20 at AAMI Park last night.

Wearing a neck brace, McKinnon left the field on a stretcher in the 40th minute after he was driven head-first into the ground in a dangerous tackle by Storm forwards Kenny and Jesse Bromwich and Jordan McLean, who were all reported and will face further scrutiny from the NRL match review committee.

The crowd fell silent and the game was stopped for more than five minutes as McKinnon, who tucked his head towards his chest just as he was tackled, lay on the ground, was treated, and placed on the stretcher.

The 22-year-old Aberdeen Tigers junior was taken by ambulance to the Alfred Hospital for precautionary X-rays but there were initial reports from the Newcastle dressing-room that he had some movement in his arms.

Knights coach Wayne Bennett was reluctant to discuss McKinnon’s condition.

‘‘No I can’t because I don’t know. He’s up at the hospital now and gone to emergency I understand, so we’ll just have to wait and see now,’’ Bennett said.

Asked if he could confirm earlier speculation that McKinnon had movement in his limbs, Bennett said: ‘‘No look, I don’t want to confirm or deny anything here about him right now. It’s a pretty delicate situation and I just want to leave it at that until we’re all better informed and know what we’re all talking about.’’

Captain Kurt Gidley, who was on the bench at the time, said the Newcastle players were all worried about their teammate.

‘‘It’s always pretty concerning when one of your teammates stays down like that, then obviously stretchered off,’’ Gidley said.

‘‘It didn’t look good, obviously with his head hitting the ground first, so hopefully he’s all right.’’ 

‘‘It’s a pretty delicate situation and I just want to leave it at that until we’re all better informed and know what we’re all talking about.’’

WAYNE BENNETT

Gidley said half-time gave the Knights a chance to regroup after McKinnon left the field.

‘‘You have to move on pretty quick from things like that,’’ Gidley said. ‘‘It was just before half-time and we had to come in and reassess the game anyway, so I think we moved on from there.’’

Bennett said the first question every player asked as they entered the dressing-room after the game was about McKinnon’s welfare, not the result.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy was also more concerned about McKinnon’s health than the possibility any of his players could face judiciary charges for their involvement in the tackle.

‘‘Obviously no one likes to see anyone get injured and carried off like that, and we just hope that Alex is OK,’’ Bellamy said.

‘‘At the end of the day, I don’t think there was any malice in it at all, but having said that, we’re more concerned for how Alex is more so than what they’re going to do with the tackle.’’

It was Newcastle’s third successive defeat this season and sets up a game against Cronulla, the NRL’s only other win-less team, at Hunter Stadium next Sunday.

In winning their third on the trot, the Storm climbed to second spot and went some way towards avenging their 18-16 loss to Newcastle in last year’s finals.

The sombre mood concerning McKinnon took the sheen off an otherwise entertaining contest in which the Knights were competitive and committed but, ultimately, outclassed and outsmarted by Storm generals Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith.

Gidley waged a running battle with referees Gerard Sutton and Gavin Morris, who awarded the penalties to Melbourne 15-7.

Bennett did not dispute the lopsided penalty count and said that was the difference between the teams, declaring the Knights ‘‘beat themselves’’.

‘‘Fifteen penalties, multiple repeat sets on their tryline, which they defended great but at the end of the day, they’re a quality footy team they’re playing and you’re not going to hold them out long enough,’’ Bennett said.

‘‘... It was just too much to absorb in the end. I take a lot of heart out of what we’re doing but I just want us to get smarter.’’

Storm skipper Cameron Smith gave his side a 2-0 lead in the fourth minute after the Knights conceded three penalties in the first three minutes.

 Against the run of play, Newcastle posted the first try a minute later when five-eighth Michael Dobson  trickled a grubber kick into the right-hand goalpost and Jeremy Smith gathered up the rebounded ball to plant the ball behind the post.

Gidley’s conversion made it 6-2.

A Gidley penalty goal extended Newcastle’s lead to 8-2 in the 19th minute after Melbourne prop Jesse Bromwich was cautioned for a lifting tackle on Robbie Rochow.

However,  the Storm regained momentum when Joey Leilua lost the ball in a tackle, Mahe Fonua shovelled the scraps to Sisa Waqa, and the flying Fijian streaked away on a 55-metre gallop before touching down.

Cooper Cronk then  put Proctor over and Smith converted for a 14-8.   Will Chambers  then scored in the 33rd minute, leaving the Storm with an 18-8 advantage.

Roberts kicked a penalty goal after McKinnon left the field to cut the deficit to 18-10 at half-time.

Melbourne kicked away to lead 24-10 four minutes into the second half when Young Tonumaipea flew above Aku Uate to catch Cronk’s chip kick and touch down in the corner, then Smith converted from the sideline.

Newcastle  refused to buckle and hit back with two tries by Uate in the 51st and 61st minutes to trim the margin to 24-20.  Further penalties  gave the Storm prime field position and Smith darted over from dummy-half in the 67th minute, stretching the lead to 28-20.