Andrew Johns in huge backflip on Reece Walsh incident after State of Origin comments savaged

Johns turned heads with his contentious take on the drama in Game I.

Andrew Johns has performed a massive backflip over the Joseph Suaalii high shot on Reece Walsh in Game I of the State of Origin series. The league legend has changed his tune over the controversial first half incident after initially declaring that the Blues centre should not have been sent off and that it ruined the opening game of the highly anticipated series.

Suaalii's horror debut came to an end after seven minutes as he rushed up in defence and caught Walsh in the head with his shoulder as the Maroons forward was slipping into the tackle. Walsh was ruled out of the game with a category 1 head knock and Suaalii was later slapped with a four-game ban for the brutal hit. But Johns sparked backlash at the time when he argued that while it deserved a send-off at NRL level, that should not be the case in State of Origin.

Andrew Johns has changed his tune on the Reece Walsh incident from Game I of the State of Origin series. Pic: Getty
Andrew Johns has changed his tune on the Reece Walsh incident from Game I of the State of Origin series. Pic: Getty

“At clubland, yes it is a send-off. But at this level, I’m really surprised they sent Joseph Sua'ali’i off,” Johns said on Channel Nine's coverage. Queensland legend Paul Vautin surprisingly backed up the opinion of Johns when weighing in on the game's biggest talking point at halftime. He said the fact Walsh slipped slightly into the contact of Suaalii should have rendered it 10 in the bin instead.

Johns has since had plenty of time to reflect on the drama and admits he's found it difficult to watch replays of the tackle because of the confronting nature of the incident. The rugby league 'Immortal' acknowledged the debate and some of the ideas being floated around to prevent teams from losing a player so early in a game - such as 20-minute red cards or teams being able to replace a man who's been sent off. He said all those ideas were "wrong".

Despite his initial comments that Suaalii should not have been sent off, Johns has now done a complete about-turn. He concedes that while Suaalii's tackle was a terrible accident, it was nevertheless a very dangerous one that could have had serious consequences for Walsh in an era where protection of the head and player welfare is at the forefront of the sport.

"Suaalii deserved to be sent off and there has to be ramifications for serious acts of foul play. It wasn’t a deliberate act, but he got it wrong, so the consequences must be severe," Johns told The Sydney Morning Herald. "Forget about what it means for the millions of people watching on television or those at the ground wanting to watch a close game, we need to commit to a safer sport. It doesn’t matter if NSW had no chance once Suaalii went from the field. Ithe modern era, we know the dangers of concussion better than ever before. There has to be a deterrent for tackles like the one we saw (in Game I)."

Pictured left is Reece Walsh and Andrew Johns on right.
Andrew Johns caused uproar after initially saying Joseph Suaalii should not have been sent off for the hit on Reece Walsh because it was a State of Origin game. Pic: Getty

Walsh's coach at Brisbane, Kevin Walters, actually urged the NRL for greater protection of the fullback and said the penalty for Suaalii should have been more severe than a four-game ban. Walters revealed Walsh was recovering well from his head knock and said Maroons coach Billy Slater would "definitely' pick him for Game II, amid concerns around how the incident might have affected the young gun physically and mentally.

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"Of course Billy will select him," Walters told reporters on Thursday. "I would say Reece's last seven minutes were enough in Origin I to suggest he will be there for Origin II. Reece is good. He is doing all the protocols with the HIAs and he will be fine to go for Origin.

"Unfortunately he is no good for us against Souths. He was medically ruled out. He was unavailable to play and I'm very comfortable with that. We care about our players at the Broncos and we want to do the right thing medically for them. He will be back for Billy in Origin." Walsh is sitting out of Friday night's clash with the Rabbitohs as part of the NRL's 11-day concussion protocols and won't play against until Origin II as the Broncos have a bye in round 16.