Bizarre start to NRL final as Raiders star Joey Leilua 'struck by firework'

Chris Young
Sports Reporter

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.

A Canberra Raiders trainer tends to Joey Leilua after he was struck by a loose fragment from a firework moments prior to the NRL final against the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park. Picture: Channel 9

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.

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.