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State of Origin: Reece Walsh ruled out with concussion after Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii sent off over ugly hit

Jasper Bruce
The Nightly
Reece Walsh after the hit.
Reece Walsh after the hit. Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

NSW debutant Joseph Suaalii will go down in State of Origin infamy as the player sent off earliest in an Origin game after knocking Reece Walsh out with a late, high tackle during game one in Sydney.

The Sydney Roosters centre flew out of the line in the eighth minute to put a shot on Queensland’s fullback while the Maroons were on the attack after their first try at Accor Stadium on Wednesday night.

Walsh had been targeted by the Blues defence early and lay motionless on the ground after receiving the hit from Suaalii, with Queensland teammates and then staff attending to him on-field.

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Play initially continued downfield but was eventually brought to a halt by referee Ash Klein, who pulled Suaalii and Blues captain Jake Trbojevic aside.

“That is a very dangerous action, there is direct contact to the head. You’re off,” the referee said.

Walsh was rubbed out for the game after reporting category-one head injury symptoms, permitting Queensland to activate their 18th man Felise Kaufusi. His exit also brought Maroons super-sub Selwyn Cobbo into the match off the bench.

Channel Nine broadcasters crossed live to Billy Slater shortly after Walsh was ruled out, with the Queensland coach tight-lipped on the shot.

“You probably don’t want to know that,” he said when asked for his opinion on Suaalii’s move.

In commentary, NSW legend Andrew Johns was critical of the decision to send Suaalii from the field.

“At clubland, yes. It’s a shame. It is a send-off, but at this level I’m really surprised they sent Joseph Suaalii off,” he said.

Joseph Suaalii has been sent off only seven minutes into his State of Origin debut for a hit on Queensland’s Reece Walsh.
Joseph Suaalii has been sent off only seven minutes into his State of Origin debut for a hit on Queensland’s Reece Walsh. Credit: Fox Sports

Queensland opened the scoring through Ben Hunt in the fifth minute after a clever last tackle run by captain Daly Cherry-Evans.

Valentine Holmes kicked a penalty goal awarded for the hit on Walsh to give Queensland an early 8-0 lead.

Recalled NSW fullback James Tedesco then hit back for NSW in the 14th minute from a Jarome Luai kick to make it 8-6.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, who moved to fullback to replace Walsh, then scored two tries in the 19th and 24th minutes to give Queensland a commanding 20-6 halftime lead.

Despite being down to 12 men NSW were the first to score five minutes into the second half with Zac Lomax latching onto a high ball from Nicho Hynes in the right corner. Hynes missed the conversion as Queensland’s lead was cut to 20-10.

Suaalii became the sixth player in Origin history to be sent straight from the field, his hit casting extreme doubt over the Blues’ hopes of starting the Michael Maguire-era on a winning note.

The next-earliest player dismissed from an Origin game was Craig Greenhill, given his marching orders for a high tackle in the 62nd minute of game two, 1996.

The send-off also brought attention to Maguire’s decision not to carry an outside back on his bench - a selection call that sparked debate in the lead-up to Origin I.

The Blues chose versatile Matt Burton as their 18th man, behind four specialist forwards on the bench proper.

Second-rower Liam Martin initially defended on the right edge to cover for Suaalii but Stephen Crichton shifted from the left to the right later in the first half to sure up the edge.

PLAYERS SENT OFF IN AN ORIGIN GAME

Craig Greenhill (QLD) - High Tackle - 62nd minute, Game II, 1996

Gorden Tallis (QLD) - Referee Abuse, 71st minute, Game I, 2000

Trent Waterhouse (NSW) - Striking, 78th minute, Game III, 2009

Jarome Luai (NSW) - Headbutt, 79th minute, Game II, 2023

Reece Walsh (QLD) - Headbutt, 79th minute, Game II, 2023

Joseph Suaalii (NSW) - High Tackle - 8th minute, Game I, 2024

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