Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith has urged the club not to rest Jordan McLean against Newcastle on Saturday amid fears for the young prop's welfare.
It is understood the Storm are contemplating leaving McLean out of their side this weekend for what will be the club's first visit to Newcastle since Alex McKinnon suffered a broken neck against Melbourne at AAMI Park back in round three. McLean was named in a 19-man squad on Tuesday.
The club is concerned about a potential backlash from some Knights fans who may abuse McLean, who has struggled since being suspended for seven games for his involvement in the tackle that injured McKinnon.
While most in rugby league circles deem the tackle to have been a terrible accident, Smith admitted that the club was unsure of how the Newcastle crowd would react, but believes allowing McLean to take the field would be in his best interest.
"Personally, I'd like him to play," Smith said.
"I'm not too sure what the coaches are thinking. It was tough for everyone when the incident happened.
"I know the Newcastle boys did it really tough and probably still are, and certainly Alex and his family as well. Our guys did it pretty tough, too. The guys that were involved in the tackle, you can't forget those blokes, too.
"It was just a terrible accident that happened. I think Jordan has done a great job to get through it. You have to remember, he's only a kid. There's no way he'd ever want something to happen like that to anyone. To leave him out, that might just make things a bit worse. He wants to play footy and everyone wants to move on.
"I'd like to think given the way the game came together a couple of weeks ago for the Rise For Alex round, it shows how much the community feels for Alex and his family and the Knights.
"We're all part of it and we all come together for that weekend. The thing is, we can't control what's going to happen up there on the weekend.
"We can't control how their fans are going to react. The only thing we can control is the way we prepare and the way Macca is prepared for the game.
"Hopefully everyone sees the way we all came together a couple of weeks ago and we all moved on from it and just enjoy the game of footy."
Given some of the personal abuse the Storm players copped from some fans for a long time after the salary cap scandal, the club is well aware of the emotional impact a potential backlash could have on its players.
However this is a far more delicate situation, and the club is desperate to avoid McLean leaving Hunter Stadium scarred for life by what he hears from the stands.
While it's unknown how the Knights players will react to McLean if he takes the field, Smith said he hopes it doesn't get personal.
"I'd hope to think not," Smith said.
"I know a fair few of their players. I get along with a lot of them, some of them I don't know. But that's something we can't control. We have no idea what's going to happen on the weekend. Whatever happens on the weekend happens, and we just have to adjust to that."
At the time of McKinnon's injury, Smith was criticised for questioning the referees' decision to penalise Melbourne, saying: "I don't want to see that happen to anyone in our game but, if he doesn't duck his head, it doesn't happen".
Smith is adamant he wasn't being insensitive, not realising the severity of the injury to McKinnon.
"Out on the field, no one knew what was going on," Smith said.
"I don't think anyone knew the seriousness of Alex's injury. At the time I was just doing what any captain would have done, that's what I believe.
"At no stage was I ever trying to be insensitive to the whole situation because we had no idea what was going on. We didn't even know until the next day the severity of his injury.
"Once we learned of that, it was a really empty feeling for everyone. You don't want to see any of your peers injured, let alone a serious injury like that.
"Unfortunately it's a risky sport that we play. Everyone is aware of the possibilities, albeit a very low percentage that you'll be injured like that.
"I think everyone has done the best they can to move on from it. The game raised one and a half million dollars for Alex, which shows that we all care about Alex and his family, and we want to make sure that he can recover the best possible way."
- Sydney Morning Herald
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