NSW centre Joseph Suaalii became the sixth player in Origin history to be sent off after he smashed Maroons fullback Reece Walsh with a high shot in just the seventh minute of the series opener at Accor Stadium.

The Roosters rising star was making his Blues debut and he rushed up to hit Walsh as he offloaded to create a long-range break by Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.

After play broke down a couple of tackles later, play was stopped as Walsh was given treatment.

The Queensland fullback has been ruled out for the entire match with category-one symptons and because he was a victim of foul play resulting in a send-off, it activated 18th player Felise Kaufusi to the interchange with Selwyn Cobbo coming on at centre and Tabuai-Fidow switching to the back.

Referee Ashley Klein told Suaalii the contact was direct and forceful to the head before sending him on his way to the shock of Blues skipper Jake Trbojevic, who repeatedly questioned “off?”

“That’s a very dangerous action with direct contact to the head with the shoulder. You’re off.”

Klein had told Trbojevic before he brought the captain and Suaalii in to hear his explanation: “I don’t want you to say a word”, cutting off any protests before the Manly forward could make them.

The Blues were trailing 6-0 at the time after an early Ben Hunt try and the Maroons booted a penalty goal soon after but the home side hit back soon after the send-off when James Tedesco touched down.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05: Joseph-Aukuso Sua'ali'i of the Blues is sent off by referee Ashley Klein during game one of the 2024 Men's State of Origin Series between New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 05, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Joseph Suaalii is sent off by referee Ashley Klein. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Maroons coach Billy Slater was asked for his thoughts on the tackle during a live cross a few minutes after the incident and, clearly unimpressed with the tackle, he replied: “Probably don’t want to know that.”

Former Blues coach Brad Fittler on Nine’s sideline commentary duties said “the sound wasn’t good” when describing the Suaalii contact on Walsh.

Knights Immortal Andrew Johns surprisingly indicated Suaalii should have been let off with a sin-binning rather than a straight send-off.

“At clubland yes,” he said whether he thought the young Rooster should have been banished. “It’s a shame. It is a send-off but at this level but I’m really surprised they sent Joseph Suaalii off”.

That view was echoed by Queensland legend Paul Vautin.

“Here’s the thing, Suaalii thinks he’s going to hit him in the chest. Reece Walsh ducks down, and all of a sudden he gets hit in the head. 

“So look, it’s reckless and careless, but it’s not deliberate.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s a send off. At this level, we always say they always have bit of leeway in Origin.

“I believe he should have been left on. Although, saying that, Queensland have lost a player for the whole game. So the referee’s probably going, ‘well, he’s gone. I might as well get rid of this player’.”

Former Blues coach Phil Gould said the Blues didn’t react to going down a man quick enough.

“The send off is unfortunate, but I thought New South Wales reacted poorly to it and probably didn’t make the change they needed to make soon as,” said Gould.

“They came into this game without a replacement for the backs. Their replacement for a centre going down was for Hudson [Young] to play on the left and probably [Angus] Crichton to the right.

“They should have done that straight away and instigated it straight away. Down to 12 men, got Crichton across to that right hand side of the field. 

“He went there late in the half, and all of a sudden things closed up a little better. New South Wales is really stuck to their guns. They’re trying valiantly, but at this level to be down to 12 men for so long is an enormous task.”

 Former Blues forward Luke Lewis said he thought Queensland had selected Cobbo on the bench in part because they were worried about NSW targeting their gun fullback.”They knew Reece Walsh would be on the chopping block and I reckon that’s half the reason Selwyn Cobbo was on the bench,” he said on ABC Sport.

Send-offs in Origin history

  • Craig Greenhill – 1996
  • Gorden Tallis – 2000
  • Trent Waterhouse – 2009
  • Jarome Luai – 2023
  • Reece Walsh – 2023
  • Joseph Suaalii – 2024

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