St Helens suffer two huge season-ending injuries; Paul Wellens calls out governing body’s failure to protect players following controversial tackles 

Josh McAllister
St Helens Agnatius Paasi, Paul Wellens and Alex Walmsley

St Helens head coach Paul Wellens has called out the governing body’s failure to protect its players after the side suffered two season-ending injuries in the Challenge Cup clash with Leigh.

Prop forward Agnatius Paasi was helped from the field following a controversial low tackle made by opposition forward John Asiata.

Wellens confirmed a blow to the 31-year-old’s knee following the semi-final defeat, with the worst case scenario now confirmed by the Saints boss.

Paasi will be sidelined for at least the next nine months, while England international Alex Walmsley is also expected to miss the rest of the season with a 12-week blow following a tackle by the Leigh skipper.

It also means Walmsley would be unlikely to represent England at the end of year series against Tonga.

Veteran forward Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook has suffered a short-term blow, while Morgan Knowles will be given every chance to make Friday’s Super League clash with Leeds Rhinos at the Totally Wicked Stadium.

Frustrated by the outcome of one player’s controversial tackles, Wellens went as far to say that he wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing his son to play the game if those techniques would be permitted in the game without punishment.

Asiata, 30, was cited in the match review panel minutes, although escaped a charge for alleged dangerous contact.

St Helens boss frustrated by governing body’s failure to protect players 

Ahead of his weekly press conference with the media, Wellens read a statement: “As a game, we bang the player welfare drum a fair bit and make a lot of effort and have made a lot of strides as a game in recent times to protect players, because ultimately we have a duty of care to protect our players at all times.

“In my opinion, and I think very few would disagree with me, this weekend the governing body has failed to in its duty to protect its players.

“On the weekend, we had four players injured by one player tackling in a reckless and dangerous manner.

“One of those players has a 50/50 chance of playing this weekend in Morgan Knowles.

“Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook will not play for two weeks probably.

“Alex Walmsley is today having MCL surgery and will be out for 12 weeks. And the fourth in Agnatius Paasi has torn ankle ligaments, torn MCL and will also undergo an operation.

“He will not play for a minimum of nine months.

“The RFL, before the match review panel met to adjudicate on those decisions, were provided with detailed medical reports from our medical staff.

“We have two extremely disappointed, angry, upset players.”

“And when I spoke to the match review panel who reviewed that game, they by 6:30pm on Monday evening after the decision not to charge John Asiata was made, by that point had still not seen those scan reports.

“What I want to ask, is why? That is a very, very different procedure to which Morgan Knowles was subjected to when he was part of a similar scenario after a game on Good Friday in which unfortunately Mike Cooper suffered an ACL injury.

“I think it’s important to consider here, this isn’t an emotional response from losing a cup game. I congratulate Leigh whole-heartedly for the way they played on the weekend and wish them well in the final.

“But what we’ve got to consider here when making decisions not to charge players who are tackling in that manner, is that we give the green light for coaches and players at all levels to be able to tackle like that.

“As I sit here now as someone who loves the game, that doesn’t sit with me well and it doesn’t make me feel comfortable.

“I have an eight-year-old son who plays at Pilkington Recs, who plays the game with a smile on his face every week. But if that’s the kind of tackle we’re allowing in our game, then maybe rugby league isn’t a game that I want my son playing anymore.

“I feel that strongly about it.

“In Agnatius and Alex, we have two extremely disappointed, angry, upset players that they’ve been left in this position and the game hasn’t protected them.”

RFL response to Wellens’ comments

A statement from the RFL read: “Nobody wants to see injuries to players and we wish each of them the earliest possible recovery.

“We have listened intently to what the club has to say and we fully understand their position. We have also reiterated to the club that our approach to reviewing the incidents they refer to is consistent with all cases previously where clubs have cited incidents and alleged serious injuries to players.

“We assure all clubs that we will consult, consider and decide whether this type of tackle or technique is acceptable in our sport.

“As with any change to the laws of the game or to on-field regulations, we will undertake a thorough review with all stakeholders, including coaches and the laws committee, but any changes cannot happen in-season.”

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