Wayne Bennett has snapped back at Brad Fittler’s criticism of Jai Arrow, defending his player after widespread condemnation in the State of Origin decider.
Arrow sparked uproar on Wednesday night when he roughed up a heavily concussed James Tedesco.
After Tedesco had been KO’d by an accidental knee from Josh Papalii and lost the ball, Arrow picked up Tedesco by the jersey and shoved his head back down into the ground.
While Arrow couldn’t have known Tedesco was concussed, it still wasn’t a good look and was slammed by NSW great Andrew Johns in commentary.
— Nathan Brookes (@BrookesyNat) November 18, 2020
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Fittler said Arrow showed a “lack of respect”, adding “he will learn from that”.
Damien Cook, who is coached by Bennett at South Sydney, said he hadn’t seen the incident but was certain the Queensland coach wouldn’t be happy.
“I know for a fact if it’s what they are saying, Wayne won’t be happy because it’s a duty of care, and Wayne is big on that,” Cook said.
However Bennett wasn’t having any of it, defending Arrow (who he also coaches at the Rabbitohs).
“That was instinct, mate. That happened so quick and he didn’t realise that Papalii had hit him with his knee,” Bennett said.
“As soon as he realised what he’d done, he stayed there. He never moved, he didn’t run away and get a high-five or something.
“It happens so quickly out there and he just didn’t know what had happened … I thought he reacted really good.
“If you look at his head, he never even seen what happened. He was in there trying to make the tackle, he never saw the knee go into Tedesco’s head.”
When told about Fittler’s comments, Bennett snapped back: “Brad’s kidding himself, OK? There was no lack of respect there. Just watch it again.”
Jai Arrow defends himself against criticism
Speaking after the game, Arrow said he’d apologised to Tedesco but defended his actions.
“When I was speaking to him after the game I said, ‘Look mate, I’m sorry I didn’t realise you were knocked out until probably a couple of seconds after I threw him back on the ground’,” Arrow said.
“People are always going to have comments about it but I know myself, I know what I do as a player, I’m not out there to try and hurt someone intentionally.
“I was fired up and obviously I’ve been told some comments were made about Tedesco and I just want to come out and say at first I was fired up and I, honestly, personally, am not a grub like that.”
Fox League host Paul Kent was among the few to defend Arrow, saying those criticising him need to “pull their heads in.”
However Queensland great Cooper Cronk replied: “Well then I need to pull my head in.”
“That’s not a play you should be doing if a player is in or out of consciousness for me.
“Whether he’s out or not, you don’t whack somebody then pick them up and throw them again.”
Fans and commentators were quick to slam Arrow during the game.
“No need for that carry on by Jai Arrow,” Johns said in commentary for Channel Nine.
“So he gets the knee here and he’s knocked out. He’s on the ground. That’s just not needed, the extra.
“The game’s hard enough as it is without that rubbish coming into play.”
Former NSW player Keith Galloway labelled Arrow a “grub” on Twitter, while Emily Benammar of the Herald Sun wrote: “Dog act from Jai Arrow. Disgraceful.”
Jessica Halloran of the Australian wrote: “That was a revolting move from Jai Arrow.”
Dog act from Jai Arrow. Disgraceful https://t.co/5O860JgFOo
— Emily Benammar (@EmilyBenammar) November 18, 2020
I did see that after I tweeted that, still no need for the carry on https://t.co/43KKmos5Pb
— Keith Galloway (@kgalloway85) November 18, 2020
Arrow should be off.
— Jessica Halloran (@JessiHalloran) November 18, 2020
Imagine Tedesco had a serious neck injury and the coward carry on by Jai Arrow severed his spinal cord. #Origin
— Josh Holt (@JoshHoltTEN) November 18, 2020
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