Alex McKinnon’s former St George Illawarra teammate David Gower has expressed his shock at the Newcastle back-rower’s sickening injury but says rugby league is still a safe sport.
The Parramatta prop was in the Dragons side when McKinnon scored two tries on his NRL debut against the Gold Coast in 2011.McKinnon moved to the Knights 12 months later and his career is in the balance after he sustained neck fractures at the C4 and C5 vertebrae in Monday’s loss to Melbourne.
The back-rower was stretchered from the field at AAMI Park in a neck brace and taken to hospital after landing head first in an awkward tackle by Melbourne forwards Jesse Bromwich, his brother Kenny and Jordan McLean.
The tackle, which happened 30 seconds before halftime, was put on report by referee Gerard Sutton but the full extent of the injury is not yet known.
Gower said every player would have been shocked by the sight of McKinnon leaving the field in such a bad way but said there was no question of any malice from the Storm players.
‘‘Alex is a good young player: he’s had a good couple of years of first grade and he’s only going to get better,’’ Gower said.
‘‘It’s scary. It’s not a nice thing but what do you do? It’s an aspect of the game.
We understand that when we take the field but no one intentionally goes out there to do it.
"It’s just one of them really unfortunate awkward tackles that just went wrong.
"But the boys, they haven’t gone in there intentionally to tip him on his head.’’
The NRL outlawed the shoulder charge last year and outlawed third-man-in tackles below the knee this season to prevent cannonball tackles, but Gower said it would be wrong to change tackling rules further.
‘‘If you lift and it goes wrong, you get cited by the match review committee and, if you they find you guilty, you serve suspension,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s just an area in the tackle, just went wrong. You’ve got a split second. It’s just something that’s gone wrong.
"Fingers crossed Alex is alright.
‘‘The danger is, if you get get rid of many tackles, you can’t tackle.
‘‘The rules are there. We all understand them ... and I think it’s a safe game. It’s just unfortunate incidents happen every now and then.’’
Veteran centre Willie Tonga said he was stunned at the news of McKinnon’s injury.
‘‘I’ve got no words for it. I’ve had my share of injuries but, when you hear something like that, it sends tingles up your spine,’’ he said.
‘‘I send my best wishes to him and I can only imagine what he going through at the moment.’’