Melbourne Storm’s finals showdown with the Canberra Raiders got off to a bizarre start as Joey Leilua appeared to be struck by a firework fragment on the way out of the tunnel, moments before the game was due to begin.
The Raiders centre did not take to the field and was lead into the rooms by trainers, and was seen rubbing his eyes on the broadcast.
Bailey Simonssen replaced Leilua on the ground, and the substitution proved to be an incredible one, crossing for a try after just four and a half minutes of play.
There were several reports that Leilua had a fragment caught in his eye, but it was soon removed and the Raiders big man resumed his place on the bench.
Fans were left baffled by the bizarre turn of events to begin the crucial match.
Joey Leilua cleared of serious damage and will return tonight #NRLStormRaiders— Michael Blok (@michaelblok26) September 14, 2019
In the 5 minutes pre game and first 5 minutes into the match, we've already had more twists and turns than most semi finals series lol #NRLStormRaiders— DJ Mystergio (@DJMystergio) September 14, 2019
Fireworks taking out players pre-game? Damn... these modern stadiums and their OH&S issues.#NRLStormRaiders— Nathan Webojevic (@SeaEagleSpur) September 14, 2019
Crazy scenes. Canberra’s Joey Leilua is back in the changing room after it looks like he was struck in the eye by a firework during the pre-match pyrotechnics. Raiders forced into a change before the game’s even started. #NRLStormRaiders #NRLFinals— Cai (@GiniCainaldum) September 14, 2019
How about Simonsson..? Not starting.. to scoring first try!! #NRLStormRaiders— Andrew Hutchison (@andos_89) September 14, 2019
Sideline microphones for Channel 9 picked up audio of someone saying ‘a firework went off in his eye’.
Channel 9’s sideline reporter Billy Slater described the somewhat chaotic scenes in the seconds prior to the match getting underway.
“We’ve got NRL officials running around like crazy, we’ve got the Melbourne Storm doctor, Joey Leilua has got his left eye closed and is looking in extreme discomfort.
“It doesn’t look well, apparently a spark from the firework when he ran out went in his eye.”
Leilua was brought on to the ground shortly before the 20-minute mark, still rubbing his eye, to replace Nick Cotric, who clashed heads with Melbourne’s Ryan Papenhuyzen.