Isaah Yeo at centre of State of Origin concussion drama: 'It was a joke'

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Isaah Yeo was allowed to stay on the field despite being rocked in an early State of Origin incident. Pic: Ch9/Getty
Isaah Yeo was allowed to stay on the field despite being rocked in an early State of Origin incident. Pic: Ch9/Getty

Rugby league fans have hit out after NSW forward Isaah Yeo was allowed to stay on the field following a sickening early incident in the State of Origin opener.

Yeo's Blues went down 16-10 to Queensland in Game One of the series at Sydney's Accor Stadium on Wednesday night.

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It was an inauspicious start to the game for Yeo, who looked set to come off the field in the very first play of the game when he collided with Maroons prop Josh Papalii.

The Maroons big man charged into Yeo in the first carry off the kick-off, with the Blues forward coming off second best in the tackle.

Yeo was flung back to the turf after the heavy contact and looked groggy getting back to his feet, sparking concern from commentators on the Channel Nine broadcast.

“Oh no, Isaah Yeo has stumbled,” Andrew Johns said on Channel 9.

“He is the key man for NSW, he’ll be off for a head assessment.”

“Huge drama in the first carry of Origin,” fellow commentator Matt Thompson added.

The NRL's new independent doctor - making a first appearance in an Origin series - assessed Yeo and deemed him fit to stay out on the field.

However, the controversial call left commentators and fans baffled, considering how strict officials are in administering head injury assessments (HIA's) for players in the NRL.

“If the independent doctor doesn’t see Isaah Yeo, I don’t know what they’re doing,” Ryan Girdler said on Triple M.

Isaah Yeo insists he was fine after early blow

The incident was reviewed by the NRL's independent doctor in the bunker, who only deemed it worthy of a category three before Yeo passed an on-field concussion check.

Had Yeo's incident been labelled a category one, he would have been ruled out of the match immediately, while a category two requires a 15-minute off-field test.

Yeo has a history with concussions, and was insistent after the Blues' 16-10 loss that he was not suffering side-effects of a head knock following the tackle.

"I felt fine," Yeo said.

"I remember everything, I've been knocked out and it definitely wasn't that. I just lost a bit of balance.

"When you're knocked out, you don't remember anything. I remember absolutely everything.

"I remember the play (leading with) the wrong shoulder, all of that sort of thing. It was all good.

Yeo admitted he spent the minutes following the hit believing he may be pulled off the field for a full HIA, given the independent doctor may have seen him lose his balance.

Seen here, NSW forward Isaah Yeo being tackled during game one of the 2022 State of Origin series in Sydney.
NSW forward Isaah Yeo is tackled during game one of the 2022 State of Origin series in Sydney. Pic: Getty

Motor incoordination, such as balance disturbance and clumsiness, are considered possible symptoms of a head injury as per the NRL guidelines.

But the 27-year-old said in this instance, the balance loss was not related to any head injury.

"(It was) just the contact, I reeled out of it and I was just trying to get my footing to get back in the line," Yeo said.

"It's all fine. I thought (trainer) Travis (Touma) would come and check, just because I was trying to get my balance. But my head feels fine, no stress."

Yeo's woes were compounded by a Game One loss for the Blues that came after an Origin masterclass from Cameron Munster.

The Maroons five-eighth produced three famous plays to lead Queensland to the shock six-point win, which puts Queensland in a commanding position to regain the Origin shield.

With four debutants in their side, Queensland were forced to overcome an ankle injury which sidelined winger Xavier Coates in the first half while newcomer Jeremiah Nanai battled through a similar issue.

QLD enjoys rare win in Sydney

It was the Maroons' first win in Sydney since 2017, when Johnathan Thurston nailed a last-minute conversion in his last series beside Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.

Rookie Pat Carrigan swung the momentum of the match off the bench and fellow debutant Reuben Cotter made 49 tackles while halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Munster both played direct in attack.

Kalyn Ponga had one of his best nights in Origin at fullback, playing a role in two Maroons tries and pulling off a last-play tackle under the posts on Yeo on the siren.

In contrast the Blues were frantic, desperately chasing points in the second half as they struggled to win the ruck and halfback Nathan Cleary admitted they tried to move the ball around too much.

While Brad Fittler's NSW team scored first through Jack Wighton when Cleary and Jarome Luai put him over, they were forced to wait almost 60 minutes for their next points.

In between, Queensland took control in front of the biggest crowd in Sydney since the start of the pandemic with 80,512 in attendance.

Leading 6-4 after the break, Munster broke down field to put Queensland on the attack, before Cherry-Evans went over with ease from an ensuing scrum.

Ponga put on the ball of the match to make it 16-4 with 25 minutes to play, firing a long pass for Valentine Holmes to cross untouched on the left wing.

NSW were eventually able to get back within six points when Luai put Cameron Murray over to set up a grandstand finish.

But it was Munster who stood tall in defence.

Seen here, QLD playmaker Cameron Munster runs with the ball in the State of Origin opener.
QLD playmaker Cameron Munster came up with several big plays to earn man-of-the-match honours in the State of Origin opener. Pic: Getty

The Melbourne star pulled off a crucial one-on-one strip on Stephen Crichton late, ending a Blues' attacking raid with six minutes to play.

He also popped up at a crucial moment in the Blues' penultimate set, latching onto a Luai grubber kick as it bounced towards the line.

"They're little moments but they are big moments," Maroons coach Billy Slater said.

"It wasn't our game that won us the game tonight. It was the way Queensland have played for decades.

"That's what won us the game tonight."

NSW coach Brad Fittler insisted his side had the confidence to bounce back in Perth and Brisbane.

"It's always tough. If you lose the first one you are up against it," Fittler said.

"But winning the game there last year at Suncorp gives us a lot of confidence."

with AAP

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