AFL makes call on Melbourne Demons wrongdoing over Christian Petracca's return to field

The league's top medical officer has made a call on whether the Demons were in the wrong.

The AFL's chief medical officer has reportedly ticked off the process the Melbourne Demons took in allowing Christian Petracca to return to the field on Monday. Petracca copped a knock to the side from Darcy Moore in Melbourne's loss to Collingwood, and was later found to have four broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and punctured lung.

Before the extent of his injuries were discovered in hospital after the game, the Demons allowed Petracca to return to the field to see if he could play through the pain. The star midfielder initially left the field at the end of the first quarter, but decided to try and play on after receiving some pain-killers.

Christian Petracca after suffering his injuries against Collingwood.
Christian Petracca was allowed back onto the field despite some shocking injuries. Image: Getty

He was eventually subbed out of the game at half-time after struggling throughout the second quarter. The Demons were hopeful that Petracca only had some broken ribs, but it emerged on Tuesday morning that he also had to have spleen surgery and suffered a small puncture to his lung.

The awful extent of his injuries has sparked questions around whether the Demons erred in allowing Petracca to return to the field. Many pointed out that the club risked Petracca's long-term health and an even more serious injury.

Christian Petracca in action for Melbourne Demons.
Christian Petracca suffered four broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and punctured lung. Image: Getty

But the AFL have reportedly ticked off the Demons' process after the league's top medical officer reviewed the situation. “It is a hard position to defend,” leading journalist Gerard Whateley said in regards to the Demons on AFL 360 on Tuesday night.

“I do know the reporting tonight has the AFL Medical Officer comfortable with the processes that Melbourne adopted. That escapes me. I’m not quite sure how you could be comfortable not knowing what the damage was and subsequently learning in hindsight, and having a player go back out there on the field in that condition."

Demons football boss Alan Richardson said in a statement on Tuesday: “Obviously, Christian’s health is the number one priority for us at the moment. The next few weeks will be crucial, and we’ll be monitoring his progress closely to make sure he heals properly and fully.

"As his recovery progresses, we will look towards a return to play timeline. He’s obviously an extremely important player for the team, but his health and recovery are our top priorities right now.”

But Whateley pointed out: "Melbourne’s statement (on Tuesday) was conspicuous for not addressing any of what transpired. But all about the ‘what happens next’ with the welfare.”

AFL 360 co-host Mark Robinson said the Demons need to provide "some transparency (about) what happened behind closed doors." He added: “Were you giving him injections? Was it a feel test? Was it a verbal test? How much say does Christian Petracca have? Who’s got the most say, the doctor or Petracca? Because, at the moment, we think it’s Petracca. His voice carried the most weight downstairs in the rooms.”


Whateley questioned whether the Demons doctors would have regrets about their decision. “The risk assessment, I imagine that the medical staff was mortified to learn what the actual injuries were later in the night,” he said.

“There is a question around what the overall procedures are - what specifically is done - then there’s what specifically isn’t done? And whether this is a moment in time to go ‘OK, this is built on bravery’. You have to have the debate in the cold light of day ... What sort of risks were taken here (unknowingly)?”

Petracca has since moved to defend Melbourne’s medical staff. He wrote on social media: “I’m responsible for putting myself out there by the way for people talking about the medicos."