Rugby league-McKinnon tackler banned for seven weeks

Reuters

* Melbourne Storm prop banned for seven weeks for tackle

* McKinnon in hospital with serious spinal injury

* Storm unhappy with penalty (Adds quotes, details)

MELBOURNE, April 2 (Reuters) - An Australian rugby league player has been banned for seven weeks after being found guilty of committing a 'dangerous throw' tackle that left an opponent with a broken neck and the prospect of never being able to walk again.

Melbourne Storm prop Jordan McLean, a 22-year-old in his second season in the top-flight National Rugby League, was one of three players that brought Newcastle Knights forward Alex McKinnon down in a tackle in Melbourne last week, but the only one to face a judicial hearing.

McKinnon, who underwent surgery last week, has been in a serious but stable condition in a Melbourne hospital and communicated with his family on Sunday for the first time since being revived from an induced coma.

McLean pleaded not guilty to the throwing charge at the hearing in Sydney on Wednesday, his lawyer arguing that McKinnon had been the victim of a "terrible and tragic accident".

The lawyer also said that McKinnon, 22, had "unfortunately and unwittingly" contributed to his injury by tucking his head into his chest before he hit the ground.

However, NRL judicial counsel Peter Kite said while the other players, Storm brothers Jesse and Kenny Bromwich, had contributed to the tackle, "substantial responsibility for the lift" was borne by McLean.

After a number of video replays from various angles, the three-man panel found McLean guilty, and Kite asked for a sanction of between seven and 11 matches.

The panel returned the seven-week ban after deliberating for nearly an hour and half.

The NRL and Australian Rugby Union have worked to crack down on "lifting" tackles due to the dangers of spinal and head trauma.

But players are regularly lifted and dumped in tackles during games, with far less serious consequences.

Melbourne Storm CEO Mark Evans expressed sympathy for McKinnon but said the club would consider taking the matter further.

"We came here tonight with Jordan feeling that the tackle that led to such a terrible accident was really no different to hundreds of tackles in the NRL we see every season," Evans told reporters.

"We're going to think about our position as a club in the next few days.

"There aren't really any winners in this and there were never going to be. And I think it's important that the sport doesn't lose sight of that."

McKinnon's plight has prompted an outpouring of sympathy in Australia, with an emotional tribute from Newcastle Knights fans during the team's home match against Cronulla Sharks earlier this week.

McLean has the sympathy of some NRL players who regarded the incident a freak accident.

"As a player and speaking to all other players, we really don't think there was a lot in the tackle," Sharks captain Paul Gallen said this week.

"It's just an absolute tragic accident that has happened. It's the most unfortunate thing I've ever seen in rugby league.

"Unfortunately for Jordan he's stuck in the middle of it." (Reporting by Ian Ransom; editing by Peter Rutherford/Sudipto Ganguly)

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