Johnathan Thurston levels allegation against NSW as Joseph Suaalii responds to Reece Walsh hit

The opening game of the State of Origin series was flipped on its head after just seven minutes.

Joseph Suaalii has apologised for "letting down NSW", while Queensland assistant coaches Johnathan Thurston and Nate Myles have accused the Blues of deliberately targeting Reece Walsh. Suaalii was sent off in just the seventh minute of his Origin debut after he floored Walsh with direct contact to the head on Wednesday night.

Walsh was ruled out for the remainder of the game with concussion and Suaalii became just the sixth player sent off in Origin history. It was clear from the get-go that NSW had a plan to pressure Walsh and make life uncomfortable for him, with Liam Martin hitting him after a kick in the opening exchanges.

Johnathan Thurston alongside NSW players and Reece Walsh.
Johnathan Thurston (L) has accused NSW players of deliberately targeting Reece Walsh (R). Image: Getty

Walsh only touched the ball twice and was heavily concussed by Suaalii's hit on the second instance. Speaking to reporters after the game, Thurston and Myles both accused the Blues of targeting the 21-year-old fullback.

"Everyone has seen it and it was unfortunate for Suaalii making his debut," Thurston said. "It was direct, forceful contact to the head and they clearly had a target on (Walsh) … the officials had no other option."

Joseph Suaalii, pictured here being sent off just seven minutes into his State of Origin debut.
Joseph Suaalii was sent off just seven minutes into his State of Origin debut. Image: Getty

Myles, who was spotted giving Suaalii a spray as he left the field, said the Blues got their tactical ploy all wrong. "(Suaalii) got it wrong and ... it's not a good look for the game," Myles said. "Controlled aggression is key now. Controlled aggression isn't hitting the right spot every time, it's what you do on every play.

"A good side sticks to their tactics and doesn't get it wrong. That play on Reece out the back, they didn't get it right."

Myles said he wasn't suggesting Walsh needed to be wrapped in cotton wool, but the onus is on the tackler not to hit the head. "No one needs protecting, it's rugby league, but there's rules in place," he said. "We want the game to prosper. It's going terrific, but we have to look after players and keep them on the field.

"When (Walsh) came back to the bench, I knew he was OK, but there's a safety protocol and there's a reason why guys don't play back-to-back games anymore. It would have been good to see a young man like Reece go at the game."

Queensland coach Billy Slater refused to weigh-in on whether Walsh was targeted, and NSW counterpart Michael Maguire rubbished suggestions they were deliberately trying to take him out. But it was clear for all to see that the Blues had a plan to put plenty of pressure on the 21-year-old after the Titans showed the blueprint on how to fluster Walsh in Round 12. Walsh had three try assists against the Gold Coast, but the Titans players did a good job of rushing up on him and trying to force an error - just like Suaalii tried to do.


Meanwhile, Suaalli has issued an apology to NSW fans after his send-off saw the Blues flogged 38-10 in Game I. The 20-year-old, who is leaving the NRL for rugby union at the end of the season, has been hit with a four-game ban and might be destined to only ever play one Origin game.

Suaalii told reporters on Thursday morning he was "disappointed at letting my family, my state and my teammates (down)". He added: "I didn't mean that at all, I just went there to go and tackle (Walsh). I accidentally clipped his head and I hope he is doing all right. I haven't reached out to him yet but it's something I'll do."

Walsh's Category 1 concussion has triggered the NRL's 11-day stand-down period. The Broncos have two games in that time and then a bye in Round 16, meaning he won't be back on the field until Origin II at the earliest.