Andrew Johns cops backlash over comments about Reece Walsh and Joseph Suaalii incident

Johns' take on the biggest talking point raised more than a few eyebrows.

Andrew Johns has sparked an ugly storm on social media after an eye-opening take on Joseph Suaalii's 8th minute send-off for NSW in State of Origin Game I. Queensland won the series opener in Sydney 38-10 on Wednesday night after the Blues were forced to play the majority of the match with 12 players, following an ugly high shot from debutant Suaalii on Maroons fullback Reece Walsh.

Suaalii's horror debut lasted only a tick over seven minutes after he made direct contact with his shoulder to Walsh's head as the Queensland No.1 tried to pass the ball. Walsh's head snapped back violently from the collision and he appeared to lose consciousness for a brief period. It saw the incident judged a category 1 head knock on-field meaning Walsh was ruled out of the contest. He later passed an HIA but was unable to return to the action.

Andrew Johns caused uproar after saying that Joseph Suaalii should not have been sent off for the hit on Reece Walsh because it was a State of Origin game. Pic: Getty
Andrew Johns caused uproar after saying that Joseph Suaalii should not have been sent off for the hit on Reece Walsh because it was a State of Origin game. Pic: Getty

Referee Ashley Klein had no hesitation giving Suaalii his marching orders for the dangerous high tackle as the rugby-bound rookie became just the sixth player to be sent off in an Origin game. Suaalii has been offered a four-week suspension with an early guilty plea, meaning he could have played his last game of the series.

Speaking about the incident as part of the commentary team on Nine's coverage, league legend Johns sparked backlash after insisting it should never have been a send-off at Origin level. While the former Blues star agreed that it warranted a send-off at club level in the NRL, the eighth Immortal suggested the rules should be different for Origin and that it ruined what shaped as an intriguing contest.

“At clubland, yes it is a send-off. But at this level, I’m really surprised they sent Joseph Sua'ali’i off,” Johns said on Channel Nine. Queensland legend Paul Vautin surprisingly backed up the opinion of Johns when weighing in on the game's biggest talking point at halftime. He said the fact Walsh slipped slightly into the contact of Suaalii should have rendered it 10 in the bin instead.


“Here is the thing, Sua'ali’i thinks he is going to hit him in the chest,” Vautin said. “Reece Walsh ducks down and all of a sudden he gets hit in the head. It’s reckless and careless but it’s not deliberate. Personally, I don’t think it’s a send off. At this level, we always say there’s a bit of leeway in Origin, I believe he should have been left on. But in saying that, Queensland have lost a player for the whole game. So the referee has probably gone ‘well, he’s gone, I may as well get rid of this guy’.”

Seen here, Reece Walsh in State of Origin Game I.
Reece Walsh played no further part in State of Origin Game I after his head knock was ruled a category one. Pic: Getty

Blues coach Michael Maguire also thought the send off was harsh and referenced an incident in the NRL earlier in the season involving Taylan May and Walsh. The Penrith player was penalised and charged for dangerous contact on the Broncos fullback that left him with a facial fracture, but May was not sent off or even binned at the time.

“I think earlier in the year, I think he (Walsh) ended up with a broken jaw (cheekbone after a hit from Penrith’s Taylan May) and there was no send off. It’s a big call at this level. He was falling. I’ll have to have another look at it but I think it’s a massive call for a game like this," Maguire said.

Billy Slater's curt response to a question about the incident suggested he was incensed and clearly concerned for his star fullback. “You probably don’t want to know that,” Slater said when asked for his thoughts. But it was the suggestion from Johns that it shouldn't have been a send-off because it was an Origin game that rankled many viewers.