The NRL judiciary has suspended Melbourne Storm prop Jordan McLean for seven weeks for a lifting tackle on Alex McKinnon that left the Newcastle back-rower with a devastating spinal injury.
The three-man panel comprising former Test players Bob Lindner, Mal Cochrane and Chris McKenna needed less than 10 minutes to find McLean guilty after one of the most anticipated judiciary hearings in the game’s long history.
After successfully earning a guilty verdict, NRL counsel Peter Kite asked the panel to out McLean for between seven and 11 weeks because of the severity of McKinnon’s injury.
McKinnon remains in Melbourne’s The Alfred hospital in a serious but stable condition with a broken neck and facing the possibility of never being able to walk again.
The 22-year-old was brought out of an induced coma at the weekend following surgery last Tuesday for damage to his C4 and C5 vertebrae.
He has been conscious since and began communicating with his family on Sunday after his assisted ventilation was removed.
There will be no winners from tonight whatever you decide
McLean sat stone-faced throughout the one-hour hearing at league headquarters in Sydney on Wednesday night, refusing to watch any of the more than 30 replays of the three-man tackle gone wrong that were shown over and over from eight different camera angles.
McLean’s lawyer Nick Ghabar had pleaded not guilty to the dangerous throw charge levelled against the shattered front-rower, arguing McKinnon had been the victim of a “terrible and tragic accident”.
“There will be no winners from tonight whatever you decide,” Ghabar told the panel before submitting his case for the 22-year-old.
Ghabar urged the panel to remove any emotion from the case and to exercise their common sense as former players to accept the tackle was an accident.
Ghabar expressed deep sympathy for McKinnon and his family but, insisted with respect that the Knights youngster “unfortunately and unwittingly” contributed to his injury by “tucking his head into his chest” before hitting the ground.
He said if McKinnon did not change his posture mid-tackle, “there is no way he would have landed on his head”.
Ghabar also argued that McLean never lifted McKinnon much beyond horizontal – and certainly not vertical – and that “significant downward force” from the other two players in the tackle, Storm brothers Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, played as much part.
But prosecutor Kite successfully contended that while the Bromwich brothers undoubtedly contributed to the tackle gone wrong, “substantial responsibility for the lift was borne by player McLean”.
Kite said there was no suggestion McLean intended to lift McKinnon, but that he was certainly careless – and largely to blame.
Before a packed media contingent listening to the evidence, judiciary chairman Paul Conlon SC reminded all parties that a dangerous throw was “lifting a player into a dangerous position and placing them at risk of suffering injury”.