The Melbourne Storm are considering appealing Jordan McLean’s hefty suspension after the shattered prop was ousted for seven weeks on Wednesday night for a lifting tackle on Alex McKinnon that left the Newcastle back-rower with a devastating spinal injury.
A 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.
The Sydney Morning Herald called the hearing “arguably the most sensitive and emotional judiciary hearing in the NRL’s history.”
After successfully convincing the panel of McLean’s “substantial” involvement in the three-man tackle gone wrong, NRL counsel Peter Kite sought a ban of between seven and 11 weeks – including an additional six on top of what they’d normally dish out because of the severity of McKinnon’s injury.
With McKinnon 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 panel came down hard on McLean.
McKinnon was brought out of an induced coma at the weekend following surgery last Tuesday for damage to his C4 and C5 vertebrae and has been conscious since.
He began communicating with his family on Sunday after his assisted ventilation was removed, but has reportedly been told he is a quadriplegic.
McLean’s lengthy ban – two weeks more than Krisnan Inu’s nasty lifting tackle on South Sydney superstar Greg Inglis last year – came by virtue of receiving 725 demerit points.
But the league declined to divulge whether or not the panel accepted Kite’s plea to serve up an extra six weeks’ suspension because of the seriousness of McKinnon’s injury.
“The first point I want to make along with everyone in rugby league, I think it is really important that all our best wishes go to the young fella who is still very seriously injured,” said Storm chief executive Mark Evans.
“That can’t be obscured by anything that happens in the judiciary process.
“(But) we came here tonight feeling that the tackle was a terrible accident, was really no different to hundreds of tackles you see like that in the NRL every season.
“We are going to think about our position as a club in the coming days.”
McLean sat stone-faced throughout the one-hour hearing at league headquarters in Sydney, refusing to watch any of the more than 30 replays of the tackle that were shown over and over from eight different camera angles.
His lawyer Nick Ghabar had pleaded not guilty to the dangerous throw charge, arguing McKinnon had been the victim of a “terrible and tragic accident” and urged the panel to remove any emotion from the case.
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 had not changed 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 a part.
But prosecutor Kite convinced the panel otherwise.