The Melbourne Storm have every right to question why a heavily concussed Dallas Johnson was allowed to return to the field in Wednesday night’s State of Origin match.

In a match which produced probably the worst injury toll in Origin history, the Maroons’ forward Johnson was knocked senseless in the opening minute of the game, and had to be helped from the field with obvious, and serious, concussion.

Radio and television commentators alike – including a number of former Origin players – offered the view that there was no way he would be back. But he returned to the field after halftime after being cleared by the Maroons’ medical officer, Dr Roy Saunders, and played for the rest of the game.

Now when it comes to courage Johnson is at the head of the pack – in the 35 minutes he was on the field after his injury he made 27 tackles. In Origin Two he set what is believed to be an origin record with more than 60 tackles.

Now the Storm’s widely respected coach, Craig Bellamy, has questioned the decision to allow Johnson to play on.

The long serving QRL medical officer, Dr Saunders, indicated just how difficult a decision it was, saying yesterday that “it’s always a bit uncomfortable (allowing a concussed player to return to the game) and it’s always a difficult decision”.

The Storm pay Johnson. He is probably on a reasonable contract. When it is renewed he will surely get more. He is vital to the Storm’s premiership hopes.

Even though he did not suffer a further injury after he returned to the field, it is unlikely he will be in the team that meets the South Sydney Rabbitohs tomorrow night.

If a player is concussed in a NRL premiership game he seldom returns to the match, and is usually stood down for the next game or two. I believe the same usually position applies in the AFL, pending doctor’s approval.

The question the Storm coach should really be asking is whether Johnson would have been allowed to return to the game if the Maroons had three players on the interchange bench, and not one, as was the case when Brent Tate and Greg Inglis left the field with match ending (and in the case of Tate, season ending) injuries?

In intense, high profile matches such as State of Origin – or a NRL or AFL grand final – perhaps the solution is to take such a critical decision out of the hands of the team doctor, and require the approval of an independent medical officer.

There can be no doubting Dallas Johnson’s courage. But surely there are times when even courageous players need to be protected from themselves, and when their wellbeing needs to supersede even that of a football codes showcase event.

Peter Fray

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