‘I thought if you stumbled, you’re off’: Opening Yeo hit sparks debate

It’s perhaps the most spectacular and controversial opening collision to a big game since the 2014 grand final.

NSW lock Isaah Yeo, looking to make a statement tackle as Josh Papalii took the opening hit-up, got his head in the wrong position and the pair clashed heads. Yeo, who appeared to hit his head on the ground after the initial collision, came out of the hit second-best.

Isaah Yeo injured in first hit-up, State of Origin.Credit:WWOS

The TV cameras cut away as Yeo attempted to regain his feet, but the Panthers forward appeared to stumble in his first few steps. Replays of the incident weren’t immediately shown during the broadcast.

“He stumbled,” said Andrew Johns on the Nine broadcast. “I thought if you stumbled, you’re automatically off.”

Blues trainer Travis Touma came on to assess Yeo and deemed him fit to remain on the field. The independent doctor, utilised for the first time in a State of Origin encounter, reviewed the incident from The Bunker. After checking the available replays, Yeo was cleared to play on.

According to the NRL’s concussion protocols, “if the player exhibits or experiences any of the following clinical symptoms or signs (in the context of a possible head injury) the club medical officer must conduct a full clinical examination and assessment for concussive symptoms. The tools to be used are a SCAT (SCAT5) and a full cervical and neurological examination.

Isaah Yeo of the Blues stumbles after being hit while making the opening tackle.Credit:Getty


“Possible motor inco-ordination (eg balance disturbance, clumsiness or fumbling with upper limbs or struggling to get up).”

The Bunker ruled it was a category-three incident, a classification that requires a trainer check. Once Touma cleared Yeo, the matter was closed for the evening. Debate will rage long afterwards over whether that was the correct call.

The incident had echoes of the opening hit-up Souths-Bulldogs decider seven years ago, when Sam Burgess was involved in a sickening head clash with Canterbury counterpart James Graham.

Burgess played on, despite being told the facial injury could have resulted in him losing an eye, and won the Clive Churchill medal to etch his name into grand final folklore. Under the current concussion protocols, he would have been immediately removed from the fray.

Johns wasn’t the only luminary shocked that Yeo wasn’t taken from the field for a head injury assessment. The incident set social media ablaze, with commentators across the game also questioning the decision.

“If the independent doctor doesn’t see Isaah Yeo, I don’t know what they’re doing,” said Ryan Girdler, calling the game for Triple M.

Yeo made an uncharacteristic error when he dropped the ball in the 10th minute, but appeared otherwise unaffected throughout proceedings.

Christian Welch and Cameron Munster were both sidelined after suffering head knocks in the 2020 interstate series.

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