GREG Inglis could miss the entire season thanks to a round-one ACL injury suffered on Friday night, in an NRL disaster for the Rabbitohs.
The South Sydney captain, 30, hurt his left knee during an awkward fall in the eighth minute of the first half of an emphatic 34-18 loss to the Wests Tigers, as he tried to stop rival fullback James Tedesco. He was left on the field until near the end of the match, something that sparked criticism for coach Michael Maguire, and scans on Saturday confirmed the worst possible news.
South Sydney said he could be sidelined for six months, likely finishing his season.
Rabbitohs general manager of football Shane Richardson said in a club statement: "The injury occurred in the first instance in the match, not as a consequence of Greg playing on further.
"Our medical staff further examined the injury at the half-time break and they felt the knee was stable, and they along with the head coach and Greg himself agreed that he would go on and play in the second half.
"I, along with the rest of our club, have the greatest of confidence in our medical and coaching staff to make the best possible decisions about our players' wellbeing.
"We have the quality of squad to continue our quest throughout the season and Greg, as our captain and senior leader, will continue to play a significant role throughout the year."
Though Richardson deflected blame from the call to leave Inglis on the field, it attracted criticism from commentators.
"He did it in the eighth minute, tried to go all the way through - but he was just a passenger out there, I was really surprised that Michael Maguire left him out, to be honest," Mark Gasnier said on Fox Sports News 500's Fulltime Live.
"I thought it was a bit silly, because it's round one. You're potentially risking your gun player for the rest of the season.
"It was horrible. He never really recovered. A couple of of people stepped inside him, he couldn't move, he was purely a passenger. He got a try at the end of the first half but he pretty much limped over the line.
"I've no doubt GI would've asked to stay on the field and probably demanded to stay on the field. A person of that calibre, you're going to listen to them. I don't know the circumstances, I don't know what was said to Michael Maguire - but if it was me as a coach, I would be thinking 'get him off, we've got another 24 weeks ahead of us, not including byes - let's just worry about that'."
Former NSW coach Phil Gould said on Channel Nine: "I can't believe he's still out there ... That's why he's out on the wing, he's no good.
As Inglis came off, Gould added: "The only question there is why it has taken so long?
"No.1, you can't risk him, and No.2, you don't embarrass your greats and he's been embarrassed tonight having to be left out there."
Maguire said Inglis, who has a history of knee problems, had actually injured his better knee and felt he was able to continue.
"It is actually his good knee," Maguire said post-match. "Everyone keeps talking about his knee but it is his other knee. I have some very good staff and they were obviously in conversation with Greg right throughout the game.
"Greg felt it was actually getting better. He thought he could stay out there. There was a point in the second half when we thought it was no longer worth pursuing, so we pulled him off."
Inglis, who hobbled over for a try late in the first half, admitted he was a "passenger" after the injury. He was incapable of making a real effort to prevent a Moses Suli try, having moved to defend on the wing, and also immediately gave up on an opportunity to run in broken play.
"Me, personally, I felt I could actually get through it," he said post-match. "But there were two plays in that second half where I couldn't really do anything.
"It is probably one of the worst feelings, to be out there and be a passenger.
"Shattering. I just had to get back up. One thing we do here at this club is obviously put our hand up and do the best we can.
"It is just one of those things that just happen. I came down and landed on it the wrong way."
Inglis's absence may see either Alex Johnston or Cody Walker move to fullback long-term for this season - likely Johnston, given halfback Adam Reynolds is also out and Walker is needed as a playmaker. It will also force a rethink of the Queensland State of Origin centre positions.
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