St Helens hit by forward crisis ahead of Leeds Rhinos clash as coach Paul Wellens says RFL let players down
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Saints coach Paul Wellens will name his initial 21-man squad to face Rhinos at noon on Wednesday, but confirmed Alex Walmsley, Agnatius Paasi and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook have all been ruled out with injuries suffered in last Saturday’s Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final defeat by Leigh Leopards and Morgan Knowles is in doubt.
At his weekly preview press conference today (Tuesday), Wellens accused the RFL of Letting his players down by taking no action against Leigh forward John Asiata.
The governing body’s match review panel studied the semi-final on Monday but no charges were issued to Asiata.
Saints’ Sione Mata’utia and Leigh’s Edwin Ipapa were both suspended over different incidents.
Wellens accused Asiata of being ”out of control” and of “hurling himself at players’ knees”.
In a preprepared statement, Wellens said: “As a game, we bang the player welfare drum a fair bit and have made a lot of strides in recent times to protect players. Ultimately we have a duty of care to protect our players at all times.
“But my opinion - and I think very few would disagree with me -is that this week the governing body has failed in its duty to protect its players.
"On the weekend, we had four players injured by one player tackling in a reckless and dangerous manner.
"One of those players has a 50-50 chance of playing this weekend, that’s Morgan Knowles.
“Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook will not play for two weeks probably; Alex Walmsley is today having MCL [medial collateral ligament] surgery and will be out for 12 weeks.
“Agnatius Paasi has torn ankle ligaments, a torn MCL and will also undergo an operation to repair his ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] and will not play for a minimum of nine months.”
Wellens claimed the RFL were provided with detailed medical reports from Saints’ medical staff before the match review panel met.
He added: “When I spoke to the match review panel who had viewed that game, they - by 6.30pm on Monday, after the decision not to charge John Asiata was made - had still not seen those scan reports.
"What I want to ask is: why? That is a very, very different procedure to which Morgan Knowles was subjected to when he was part of a similar scenario after a game on Good Friday when Mike Cooper unfortunately suffered an ACL injury.”
The coach insisted his comments are not sour grapes after Saints’ Cup exit.
"What's important to consider is this isn't an emotional response from losing a Cup game,” he said.
"I congratulate Leigh wholeheartedly for the way they played and wish them well in the final in a few weeks' time.
"But what we've got to consider here, when making decisions not to charge players who are tackling in that manner, is that we give the green light for coaches and players at all levels to be able to tackle like that.
"As someone who loves the game, that doesn't sit with me well and doesn't make me feel comfortable.
"I have an eight-year-old son who plays rugby at Pilks Recs and plays it with a smile on his face every week , but if that's the type of tackle we're allowing in our game then maybe rugby league is a game I don't want my son playing anymore.
"I feel that strongly about it. I feel Agnatius Paasi, Alex Walmsley and to a lesser extent Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Morgan Knowles have been severely let down by the governing body."