NRL takes action amid confusion over Reece Walsh's concussion and HIA in State of Origin I

The Maroons fullback passed his HIA in the dressing rooms, but wasn't allowed to return to the field.

The NRL's head of football Graham Annesley has moved to clear up confusion around Reece Walsh's concussion suffered in State of Origin I and the fact he passed his head injury assessment (HIA). Walsh was knocked out of the game in just the seventh minute when Joseph Suaalii collected him in the head with a high tackle.

The Queensland fullback lost consciousness for a brief period before he managed to get to his feet and walk from the ground. He was ruled to have suffered a Category 1 concussion - which automatically ruled him out for the rest of the game.

Reece Walsh in State of Origin I.
Reece Walsh passed his HIA but wasn't allowed to return to the field in State of Origin I. Image: AAP/Getty

However there was some confusion when it emerged that Walsh had passed his HIA in the dressing rooms, which normally means a player is allowed to return to the field. But because Walsh had a Category 1 concussion it meant the HIA was irrelevant in determining whether he could keep playing.

Fans questioned the process on social media, asking why he had undergone an HIA if he was already ruled out of the game anyway. Some questioned whether officials had acted too quickly in determining that he couldn't keep playing, but Annesley revealed on Monday that wasn't the case at all.

Reece Walsh.
Reece Walsh was concussed in just the seventh minute in State of Origin I. Image: AAP

The NRL boss stated in his weekly briefing that an HIA is still conducted after a player is ruled out of a game to test their cognitive function and determine the next steps for treatment and assessment. “There was some confusion created by reports that Reece, after he left the field, had passed his HIA, and that led some people to believe that he wasn't concussed and therefore would not be subject to the normal concussion provisions of standing down,” Annesley said.

“I just want to make it absolutely clear that Reece was actually unconscious, momentarily, and so that is a concussion. There are no ifs or buts about it. There was a test conducted and that's part of the process in commencing rehabilitation and just checking on the welfare of the player after he suffered a head injury.

Reece Walsh and Queensland Maroons teammates.
Reece Walsh was in good spirits after Queensland's victory in State of Origin I. Image: Getty

“But when a player responds in that way, with that type of incident, then there is no question that that is a concussion, so passing the test is irrelevant in terms of what happens to the player. In some cases, after it's been a Category 1 determination, they will still go through the process of doing the test and some players recover quite quickly in terms of their immediate recovery, but a concussion can't be undone by a way of passing a test.

“Sometimes concussion signs and symptoms can follow days afterwards. A player can have headaches, nausea or a whole range of different responses that can be as a result of the incident, even though they might seem okay initially after it.”

There were also some suggestions that because Walsh passed the HIA, he might not be subject to the NRL's mandatory 11-day stand-down period. Some felt the Broncos could apply for an exemption to allow Walsh to return to the field sooner, but that's also not the case.

“The only time a Category 2 call or a Category 1 removal from the field can be overturned is if there is a subsequent dispute about the observation of the signs that were exhibited by the player," Annesley said. "In very rare circumstances, that can happen.

"The bunker, for example, might feel that a player exhibited a certain response to an incident but there may be another reason for that. For example, the player might have tripped, but the bunker didn't see that, so they saw a stumble and they thought it was as a result of the incident.”


Walsh wasn't allowed to play for the Broncos against the Sharks last weekend, and he also isn't available to take on the Rabbitohs on Friday night (both games are in the 11-day window). Because the Broncos have the bye in Round 16 the earliest he'll be back on the field is State of Origin II on June 26.