Reece Walsh photo with daughter that should end the debate about Joseph Suaalii send-off

The likes of Andrew Johns and Paul Vautin got it very wrong in commentary during Origin I.

Anyone who thinks Joseph Suaalii didn't deserve to be sent off for his ugly hit on Reece Walsh need only look at the young fullback's moment with his daughter after the game to realise what is at stake for him. Walsh is one of the most electrifying and exciting players in the game, but he's now suffered a fractured cheekbone and concussion this year because of illegal hits.

The 21-year-old fractured his cheekbone when Taylan May rushed up on him and got it wrong in Round 3 against the Panthers. That incident was an accidental head-clash, but Suaalii's high tackle was largely an accident as well.

Reece Walsh and his daughter.
Reece Walsh and his daughter after State of Origin I. Image: Getty

The fact of the matter is this - if defenders rush out of the line and try and produce a big hit, they are responsible for the outcome. Walsh may have slipped and fallen into the contact, but because Suaalii had tried to put on a big hit he has a duty of care not to make contact with the head. Anything that happens after he makes the decision to attempt a big shot is squarely on his shoulders.

The dinosaurs like Paul Vautin and Andrew Johns will tell you that Suaalii's hit was a send-off at NRL level but not in State of Origin because it's the pinnacle of the sport and shouldn't be ruined by one team having to play a man down. But if the game is serious about concussion and protecting the head, it doesn't matter one iota.

Walsh is a 21-year-old kid with a young daughter who is about to sign a $5 million contract that will set him and his family up for life. But the game would risk losing star players like him if it didn't crack down and try to stamp out foul play that puts them in jeopardy.

Walsh won't be playing for at least three weeks due to the NRL's 11-day stand-down period for concussed players. The Broncos have two games in that time and then a bye in Round 16, meaning Walsh won't be back until State of Origin II at the earliest.


Suaalii's hit means fans have been robbed of seeing one of the most exciting players in the game for the next three weeks, and if the NRL didn't care about stamping out illegal contact with the head it runs the risk of losing players like him forever. What happens if Walsh cops another head knock this year and they start to add up, and then he questions whether he can afford to keep playing the game he loves?

This is a 21-year-old who has a daughter to think about. There might come a time when Walsh has to make a decision between his health and his career, but if the game takes appropriate action on illegal tackles we hopefully won't have to worry about it.

Reece Walsh with daughter Leila after a Broncos game.
Reece Walsh with daughter Leila in 2023.

Queensland assistant coach Nate Myles summed it up perfectly. "No one needs protecting, it's rugby league, but there's rules in place," he said on Wednesday night. "We want the game to prosper. It's going terrific, but we have to look after players and keep them on the field. Controlled aggression is key now. Controlled aggression isn't hitting the right spot every time, it's what you do on every play."

Reece Walsh.
Reece Walsh lost consciousness after the ugly hit from Joseph Suaalii. Image: Getty

Veteran journalist Phil Rothfield said on NRL 360 on Thursday night: “I think a lot of people have it upside down. It’s our greatest showpiece because of players like Reece. There is no more popular player than him.

“You don’t want to lose anyone to injury and with that tackle, is it an accident? Maybe. Is it not? He’s gone out with force. But people saying ‘it’s State of Origin’. So your brain is less important in State of Origin than it is at club level? At club level send off him but brain trauma in State of Origin? Oh no, he’s allowed to stay on the field.

“We have to make tackles like that not happen ever again. We need massive deterrents for players like Joseph Suaalli’i to launch himself like he did. We’re in the modern era with concussion and we know so much more about CTE so we adjust our rules. There won’t be a game if people like Reece Walsh get another knock this year and then another one next and then another”.