NRL must do more to protect star – Walsh won’t play again this month

Kevin Walters says the NRL must do more to protect Reece Walsh and is furious Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii received only a four-match ban for knocking the fullback unconscious during State of Origin I.

Jun 07, 2024, updated Jun 07, 2024
Jarome Luai of the Blues and Reece Walsh of the Maroons scuffle before being sent off for head butting. Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Jarome Luai of the Blues and Reece Walsh of the Maroons scuffle before being sent off for head butting. Chris Hyde/Getty Images

The coach confirmed Brisbane’s other Origin representatives Payne Haas, Patrick Carrigan and Selwyn Cobbo will all back up from Wednesday’s match to face Cronulla on Saturday, with Tristan Sailor coming in to replace Walsh.

NSW centre Suaalii accepted a four-game suspension for the late, high shot on Walsh that forced the Maroon off the field and saw him banished before Queensland stormed to a 38-10 win in Sydney.

Walsh displayed category-one head injury symptoms and despite later passing a head injury assessment, he will miss the clash against the Sharks and also next week’s match against South Sydney.

The Broncos have the bye in round 16 and then travel to Auckland to face the Warriors on June 29, only three days after Origin II in Melbourne.

Walters is confident Walsh will be fit for game two but if he is rested from the New Zealand road trip given the short turnaround, he will not play for Brisbane again until July 5 – a month on from Origin I and only a week before Suaalii finishes serving his ban.

The situation has frustrated Walters, who feels the NRL must do more to discourage players from putting illegal shots on the diminutive Broncos superstar.

“The NRL have got to protect him, that’s who’s got to protect him, and be harder on the suspensions,” he said.

“Four weeks for what he actually did, Reece will be missing for us for four weeks.

“(A four-week ban) is not going to deter another player from coming out next time Reece plays and trying to take his head out again.”

Walters noted the Origin incident marked the second time this year the Broncos would lose Walsh after an opponent flew out of the defensive line to put a hit on him.

Penrith centre Taylan May was permitted to remain afield and received no suspension over the head clash that left the 21-year-old with a facial fracture in round three.

“That’s twice now and the first time he didn’t even get sin-binned or not even suspended, nothing,” Walters said.

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Walters was tight-lipped on speculation the Blues came into Wednesday night’s game with a plan to target Walsh, who was floored by NSW second-rower Liam Martin as he made the first kick of the night.

“It’s not right for me to try and feel what their plan was, but I saw what their actions were and that was the first block play of the game. You make your own mind up,” he said.

Walters was at least pleased to see Suaalii sent from the field for his hit.

“It was policed well on Wednesday night but I just thought they could have gone a bit harder with the suspension,” he said.

“We want our great players to play and it’s not about toughness because Reece is as tough as any player in the game. But four weeks for ironing a bloke out the way he did, that’s not enough.”

Replacement fullback Sailor is set to come into the Broncos’ side after making a timely recovery from a high ankle sprain that required surgery last month.

Sailor had been expected to need between four and six weeks on the sidelines but has returned to the first-grade set-up less than a month after suffering the injury playing Queensland Cup.

“He’s been in here seven days a week for the last three weeks getting it right,” Walters said.

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