Richie Barnett on league

Opinion and analysis from former Kiwis captain Richie Barnett

Richie Barnett: Grabbing recovery by the horns

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Sometimes being told you'll never play again leads to a stubborn determination to prove the doctors wrong

McKinnon's serious injury should not lead to a change in league rules. Photo / Getty Images
McKinnon's serious injury should not lead to a change in league rules. Photo / Getty Images

The terrible injury to Alex McKinnon has jolted everyone in rugby league but I'm surprised there haven't been more serious injuries like this in the game.

The number of near misses involving three or more tacklers is frightening, especially when a player is held up and then dropped, but it would be wrong to outlaw more than two tacklers. What happens if a team is defending their line and an opposition player is bearing down on the tryline? Does a team just let that player score?

Obviously my thoughts go out to McKinnon but I also feel sorry for Jordan McLean. There was nothing wrong with the tackle and he shouldn't have to face the judiciary - I only hope he's judged on the act and not the consequences.

Unfortunately for McKinnon, he caused a lot of the problems by tucking his head under.

If he had kept his head up, he would have been fine.

McKinnon will now be facing up to the most difficult scenario any player, any person, can go through in life.

It was something I faced when I was told I would never play again. It happened on April 21, 2000 - my 29th birthday.

I was playing for the Kiwis in the Anzac test when I collided with Wendell Sailor and sustained injuries similar to a car crash victim.

I needed a total reconstruction of my face and had 10 plates inserted to hold it together - they're still there. I had a broken eye socket, a broken nose, my jaw was wired together, I had a tracheotomy and I was in intensive care for seven days.

I had no feeling in my face for five months and my eye drooped. I lost 15kg because I couldn't eat properly and maintain my weight. I couldn't even walk, let alone run, for fear of jolting my face.

My face was unrecognisable but the cuts ran deeper than that.

I went through a really difficult phase trying to come to grips with how I looked and how I felt as a person.

When doctors said I wouldn't ever play again, I didn't really think too much about it. Sport becomes insignificant, health is everything.

For the first two or three months, all I was worried about was getting through the pain and getting to the next day. One of my main ambitions was getting closer to being able to eat again.

It was an incredibly difficult time. I didn't have a Plan B in life and I had a mortgage to worry about and my wife and I were expecting our first child. During that period, there wasn't a lot of support around me and I didn't really even hear from the Roosters.

There certainly weren't the support structures that are in place now, which are brilliant.

I don't think people appreciated the extent of my injuries and there are many who never play again because they struggle to come back psychologically.

After about three months, I started to feel better physically and psychologically and got back walking and doing some basic exercise. I'm a stubborn mule and that probably helped, because when someone tells me I can't do something, it fuels me.

It seems ludicrous now, but my first game back was for the Kiwis at the 2000 World Cup. Not only that, I was captain.

I remember I couldn't sleep for two weeks before that first game because I was so nervous and I had serious doubts swirling around my head. On the day, I had to put on a confident front because I was captain and there were some young players looking to me to be a leader.

Somehow I got player of the day and fullback of the tournament.

Overcoming my injuries and playing at the top level again was one of the proudest things I achieved in my life.

- NZ Herald

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