Rugby league legend and former long-serving tribunal member Ron Coote admits he wouldn’t know how to decide the fate of Jordan McLean at what is certain to be an intense and emotional NRL judiciary hearing on Wednesday night.
The Melbourne prop’s chief involvement in a three-man tackle that left Newcastle back-rower Alex McKinnon with a “devastating spinal injury” was referred directly to the judiciary.
Channel Nine said on Monday night that McKinnon had been told he is a quadriplegic, a claim disputed by the Newcastle Knights on Tuesday.
Understood to be deeply distressed by the tragic incident, McLean now faces the possibility of a lengthy suspension.
But he could also escape punishment, with the Storm likely to plead not guilty to a dangerous throw after naming the 22-year-old on the bench for Sunday’s clash with Gold Coast in Melbourne.
NSW captain Paul Gallen on Tuesday summed up the the general feeling in the league community when he said he thought McKinnon fell victim to a freak accident.
“As a player, and speaking to other players, we really don’t think there was a lot in the tackle,” Gallen said.
“It made me feel sick about what I heard last night (about McKinnon’s reported condition). It is just such a tragic accident that has happened.
“It is the most unfortunate thing I have ever seen in rugby league and, unfortunately, Jordan is stuck in the middle of it.
“But I don’t think there was a lot wrong with the tackle.”
McLean’s hearing was postponed out of respect for his family and Coote – who served as a member of the NSWRL judiciary throughout the 1990s – said the three-man panel asked to decide the Storm player’s fate also faced a difficult time.
Former players Royce Ayliffe, Paul Whatuira and Michael Vella served last week, but the three panel members for McLean’s hearing won’t be known until Wednesday night.
“I don’t know how you deal with it,” Coote told AAP.
“It’s not as if it is something that happens every week.
“It is a really tough decision whatever one they make. People will be saying he is guilty but the tackle could happen again next week and no one gets blamed and the bloke doesn’t get hurt.
“Are the three of them guilty, then what do you say?
“It is just a contact sport and you have look at it that way.”
The founder of the Men of League support network, Coote said his thoughts were with the McKinnons.
“I really feel for their family,” he said.
The judiciary hearing will form two stages.
In the first stage, the three panel members will have to decide if McLean is guilty or not guilty of a dangerous throw after judiciary counsel, or prosecution, and defence counsel have submitted their arguments.
If McLean is found not guilty, the case is over.
If he is found guilty, the two parties will put forward their submissions as to what should be considered an appropriate penalty.
Melbourne can call upon any witnesses they please, including Kenny and Jesse Bromwich, who were also involved in the tackle on McKinnon but not charged of any wrongdoing, and bio-mechanics experts.
As per judiciary rules, those witnesses can then be questioned by the judiciary counsel.