Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith says teammates are doing their best to support shaken youngster Jordan McLean following the serious spinal injury to Newcastle back-rower Alex McKinnon.
McLean flew to Perth with his teammates on Thursday after being granted permission by the NRL judiciary to play in Saturday night’s NRL clash against Canterbury in Perth.
The 22-year-old will face a hearing next Wednesday on a dangerous throw charge stemming from the three-man tackle on McKinnon on Monday night.
McKinnon, also 22, underwent surgery for a neck fracture and was placed in an induced coma on Tuesday.
He remains in a critical but stable condition in a Melbourne hospital.
It’s believed the Storm want McLean with them and playing this weekend to help him cope with a very stressful time.
“We’ve just been trying to support him (McLean),” Smith said at Perth airport.
“Obviously everyone’s thoughts are with Alex.
“But there’s a guy that feels extremely sorry for what has happened.
“His name has been thrown into the tackle and the incident that happened.
“It was just an unfortunate, freakish incident which happened to Alex.
“And as I said on the night, we don’t want to see any injury happen to any of our peers in our game, particularly to the neck region.
“(McLean) is just doing his best to get his mind on the job this week.
“He’s only a young guy. You’ve got to remember that.”
McLean had been stood down pending his hearing, which was deferred this week out of respect for McKinnon.
But judiciary chairman Paul Conlon granted Melbourne’s request on Thursday that he be allowed to play on Saturday.
He said the NRL had no option but to stand down Jordan until his charge was heard, but any player stood down would usually have his case heard before his next game.
“In this case, the NRL and Melbourne Storm had agreed to defer the hearing out of respect for Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon, who was injured in the tackle,” Conlon said.
NRL chief executive Dave Smith defended the decision to stand McLean down, but respected Conlon’s ruling.
“We took the decision to delay the judiciary on purpose,” he said.
“Once you do that, the rules say you have to stand Jordan down. But he now has the right to play.
“The judiciary will meet next Wednesday. It will go through due process.
“But this isn’t the time to be talking about that. It’s a time to give Alex and his family all the support we can.”
Newcastle announced on Thursday they will retire the No.16 jersey for the remainder of the season as a tribute to McKinnon, and the Knights’ first-grade team shirts will carry McKinnon’s name and debut club number (#232) on the chest.
In what’s sure to be a hugely emotional occasion at Hunter Stadium on Sunday, players from McKinnon’s junior club Aberdeen will form a guard of honour when the team runs out to face Cronulla.