The NRL should look to outlaw gang tackling involving three of more players after Newcastle back-rower Alex McKinnon broke his neck, says one of Australia’s leading authorities on spinal injuries.
The 22-year-old’s career is hanging in the balance after he was dumped to the ground following a three-man tackle by Melbourne’s Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and giant prop Jordan McLean, fracturing the C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck.
However, the former St George Illawarra player has avoided severing his spinal column.
McLean has been referred straight to the NRL judiciary and charged with a dangerous throw, but the hearing will be deferred given the serious injury to McKinnon.
Dr John Yeo, who set up the Spinal Research Foundation in 1976, is a former member of the Australian Rugby Union safety committee, and has worked closely with the NRL, said he has been concerned for some time by what could happen as a result of tackles where players are lifted off the ground.
“It isn’t a matter of players being brutal or out to injure someone, they are merely out to get the ball and win the game and can get carried away in the circumstances,” Dr Yeo told AAP.
“If they could reduce the number of players involved in the tackle then I think we would see less of these types of injury.
“In rugby we reduced the impact at the scrum by improving technique, and serious spinal injuries would be lessened if we reduce the impact of tackling in rugby league. When you lift a player it is too hard to control.”
Dr Yeo said it would be too early for doctors in Melbourne to diagnose the long-term effects for McKinnon, but warned that patients can often be paralysed without severing their spinal cord.
“I can’t comment on this player’s case as I am not working on it,” he said.
“Sometimes you can fracture bones without sustaining any spinal cord damage.
“But when the bones are fractured it allows them to move but they are likely to press on the spinal column.
“One of the sad things of spinal cord injury is that you only need to bruise the cord and it can deteriorate very rapidly.
“Sometimes the cord can appear intact in the operating room, but when you put the bones back together and stabilise them … the column can often refuse to heal. You don’t have to cut the cord to get significant paralysis .
“Sadly, many spinal columns that are bruised don’t recover.
“I sincerely hope this man can recover and be back playing again soon.”