THE rugby league community has rallied around stricken Knights forward Alex McKinnon, who has been diagnosed with a ‘‘devastating spinal injury’’ that has almost certainly ended his career.
The 22-year-old Aberdeen Tigers junior was in intensive care in a Melbourne hospital last night facing the possibility of further spinal surgery after undergoing an emergency anterior cervical fusion and discectomy at the C4-C5 level early yesterday morning.
The Knights said yesterday that McKinnon suffered fractured vertebrae when driven head-first into the ground in a three-man tackle in the final seconds of the first half of Newcastle’s 28-20 loss to the Storm at AAMI Park on Monday night.
In an updated statement issued last night, the Knights said McKinnon, whose parents Scott and Kate were at his bedside after flying to Melbourne early yesterday, had movement in his right arm but further ‘‘regeneration and recovery’’ could take up to two years.
The Newcastle Herald was told McKinnon was in traction and heavily sedated last night to prevent movement.
‘‘On Monday night scan results for Alex McKinnon confirmed a dislocation at C4 and C5,’’ the Knights said.
‘‘McKinnon had emergency surgery early on Tuesday morning 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.
‘‘Alex remains in hospital in intensive care and may require further surgery to stabilise his spine.
‘‘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.’’
The Herald was told Newcastle players were taught to tuck their head and roll to protect themselves when lifted in a tackle, but McKinnon is thought to have become disoriented after McLean grabbed his thigh and tipped him off balance after being held upright by Jesse and Kenny Bromwich.
Earlier yesterday, the Knights reported McKinnon’s spinal cord was ‘‘not severed but the doctors are unsure about the level of spinal cord compromise’’.
Describing McKinnon as one of his favourites, Knights coach Wayne Bennett was devastated.
‘‘I was at the hospital this morning when his parents arrived,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘It’s sad and we’re extremely disappointed for him. There’s not much we can do about it.
‘‘It’s tough on all of us. We’re friends and mates and play in a football team together.’’WAYNE BENNETT
‘‘He’s getting the best care now and we’ve got him in the best place we can and we’re giving him all the support we possibly can, and after that we just hope for the best for him.
‘‘It’s tough on all of us. We’re friends and mates and play in a football team together, and this doesn’t happen.’’
McKinnon, who was to have played his 50th NRL game on Sunday, followed Bennett to the Knights from the Dragons at the end of 2011.
Bennett said it was difficult to concentrate on coaching the rest of the game after McKinnon was carried from the field on a stretcher wearing a neck brace.
‘‘It really does bugger your head up some nights,’’ he said.
‘‘If you asked me if he was one of my favourites, I’d probably say he was.
‘‘He is an outstanding young man.
‘‘I’d imagine one day he will captain the club here, I hope.’’
Knights chief excutive Matt Gidley told the Daily Telegraph, the club’s official newspaper, McKinnon was in an induced coma to help his recovery from surgery.
Storm prop Jordan McLean has been stood down from Melbourne’s game against Canterbury in Perth on Saturday while he waits to front the NRL judiciary to answer a dangerous-throw charge for his involvement in the tackle.
McLean, in counselling with the Storm’s welfare department, posted a message on FaceBook saying: ‘‘Best wishes to Alex McKinnon, I genuinely hope your alright and have a safe recovery.’’
A Melbourne official said the rookie prop was ‘‘very, very upset’’ and there would have been doubts about his ability to play against the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
NRL head of football Todd Greenberg said no date had been set for the judiciary hearing ‘‘out of respect for Alex and his family’’.
‘‘Jordan will be stood down from this week’s match in Perth and until the matter is heard in line with the NRL’s rules. However, the Storm have the right under the rules to seek leave from the NRL judiciary chairman for Jordan to play,’’ Greenberg said.
NRL chief executive Dave Smith said the NRL and the league community would do ‘‘whatever we can to support Alex and his family during this time’’.
‘‘At this time our entire focus is on Alex’s wellbeing and we wish him a full recovery,’’ Smith said.
Multiple Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley sent his support via social media, tweeting: ‘‘Thoughts & hopes are with Alex & his family. He’s a good strong kid.’’
Former Knights winger Adam MacDougall, who retired the year before McKinnon arrived in Newcastle, tweeted: ‘‘Shocked to hear about the news on Alex McKinnon, know he’ll be back to his best soon.’’.
Sharks winger and The Footy Show star Beau Ryan tweeted: ‘‘Fingers crossed @mckinnon92 is ok. Looked bad but hopefully everything is alright. Prayers go out to you mate.’’
Wallabies and Brumbies hooker Stephen Moore tweeted: ‘‘If so inclined, say a little prayer tonight for Alex McKinnon, who’s battling on in hospital after a terrible spinal injury.’’
Korbin Sims replaces McKinnon against Cronulla on Sunday.
Devastating news for young Alex McKinnon and his family. I can't imagine what they're going through.— Pat Richards (@patrichards5) March 25, 2014
Everyone at Cowboys HQ has Alex McKinnon in their thoughts and prayers tonight. We are rivals but always friends.— NQ Cowboys (@nthqldcowboys) March 25, 2014
Really sad news about Alex McKinnon, hopefully he makes a veryyy speedy recovery!🏉— Isabel Kneale (@izzykneale) March 25, 2014
Thoughts and prayers for Alex McKinnon and his family. 🙏— Luke Lewis (@LukeLewis1983) March 25, 2014
Lets hope it's just precautions & Alex McKinnon is given the all clear🙏— Nathan Friend (@09friendy) March 24, 2014
Whole League community thinking of Alex McKinnon. Hope it is not as serious as it looked. Good luck champ .— Darryl Brohman (@therealbigmarn) March 25, 2014
I feel sick after seeing that tackle hope Alex McKinnon is ok.— Darcy Lussick (@D_LUSSICK) March 24, 2014
My thoughts go out to Alex McKinnon & his family- he will need massive support in the months ahead. Reality check on dangers of sport .— Dr Peter Larkins (@doclarkins) March 25, 2014
Prayers n thoughts go out to Alex McKinnon— Justin Carney (@Carney2823) March 25, 2014
So hope Alex McKinnon is okay.— Patricia Bratley (@PatriciaBratley) March 25, 2014