Reece Walsh controversy forces Channel 9 into last-minute change for State of Origin 2

Queensland officials were left fuming over a promotional ad for Game 2, and the NRL has now stepped in.

The NRL has forced Channel 9 to change a promotional ad for State of Origin 2 after Queensland officials took exception to the use of Joseph Suaalii's illegal hit on Reece Walsh from Game 1. Suaalii was sent off just seven minutes into Origin 1 after he knocked out Walsh when his shoulder collided with the Queensland fullback's head.

Suaalii was hit with a four-game suspension and Walsh hasn't played since, although the 21-year-old will make his return in Game 2 at the MCG on Wednesday night. But the Maroons were left fuming over the way Channel 9 chose to promote the second game of the series, with an ad that partly featured the Suaalii and Walsh incident.

About 10 seconds into the 50-second ad, Suaalii could be seen lining up Walsh. The actual hit wasn't shown in the ad, but Queensland officials were still left upset by the move.

Reece Walsh.
Reece Walsh will return in State of Origin 2 after being knocked out in Game 1. Image: Getty

It prompted the NRL to contact Channel 9 and ask for the Suaalii and Walsh incident to be removed altogether, with the broadcaster obliging. “Because it was an illegal and dangerous tackle, I didn’t believe it was in the best interests of the game, nor fair on the injured player, to show (that tackle),” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Queensland Rugby League chairman Bruce Hatcher earlier said: “I think it’s inappropriate and totally wrong. There were plenty of other tackles they could have used. I hated that photo on the front page of the [Daily Telegraph] the next day [after Game 1] with Reece’s eyes rolled to the back of his head.

“The players are bigger, faster and tougher … they hit with a whole heap of force now, so I would err on the side of conservatism rather than [promote] the gung-ho stuff. I see a big cross-section of people these days. I know if we’re going to promote that type of fringe behaviour, the game will perish through litigation. I think Reece is a sensational talent. He’s a very different individual ... but if we condone any action that takes those sort of people out of the game, then I think the game is a shocking loser.”

Reece Walsh, pictured here after Joseph Suaalii's illegal hit in State of Origin 1.
Reece Walsh was concussed after Joseph Suaalii's illegal hit in State of Origin 1. Image: Getty

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Suaalii's hit on Walsh has been a huge talking point leading into Game 2, with NSW vowing not to shy away from going after the young fullback at the MCG. Queensland officials were left seething that NSW 'targeted' Walsh in Game 1, but the Blues have denied they deliberately tried to take him out of the game.

"I think he's an awesome player so if you're one of those great players, there's going to be a target on your back regardless," NSW five-eighth Jarome Luai said on Monday. "It's no one's intention to physically hurt someone the way he got hurt, but I think from a defensive perspective you need to have that mentality on someone that fast and that skillful otherwise he's going to hurt you.

"You can't go in 50 per cent or anything like that. At the end of the day that's Origin footy, things are happening at a 100 miles an hour. It's a contact sport. He's a dangerous man if you give him that space and time. We're going to try and restrict him as much as we can by sticking to our systems and not much is going to change."

The fallout to the Walsh hit saw Michael Maguire spark an ugly war-of-words with Queensland counterpart Billy Slater. Slater was quite reserved in his comments about Suaalii's hit, but said it wasn't a good look for the game and would make parents wary of allowing their kids to play rugby league. Maguire hit back by saying Queensland were living in "glass houses", in what was interpreted as a dig at Slater and a number of indiscretions he had during his playing career.