Christian Petracca winces in pain during Melbourne's loss to Collingwood in round 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

THE AWKWARD public defensiveness emerged during the match and immediately after.

Melbourne officials, already under siege in the past 18 months for myriad reasons on and off-field, nervously navigated a narrative around why Christian Petracca was allowed to return to play after a brutal collision just before quarter-time of Monday's King's Birthday match against Collingwood.


Demons football department head Alan Richardson attempted to downplay the damage sustained by Petracca in an interview with Channel Seven at three-quarter time, and coach Simon Goodwin, rarely one to engage meaningfully with media when the microphones and cameras are on anyway, was deliberately vague post-match.

One didn't need 20 years of medical study to know that one of the last places Petracca, after that hit by Darcy Moore, should have been anywhere near was the fierce heat of MCG battle.

Petracca, one of the toughest footballers of his generation, was in obvious distress. Merely breathing was a struggle, the left side of his upper body not functioning. And yet, after an assessment and treatment, Petracca found himself back amongst the danger.


By half-time, he had been ruled out of the match. By the final quarter, he was propped up on an ambulance trolley, ready for transportation to Epworth Hospital, all colour drained from his face as his worried mother sought to offer comfort.

About 10am Tuesday, it was revealed that Moore's knee-contact with Petracca had broken four ribs, punctured a lung and lacerated his spleen, and that the gun midfielder had had surgery.

Petracca himself is clearly not blameless in the series of events that saw him back on the MCG on Monday. On Tuesday afternoon, he responded on Instagram to a Melbourne Football Club post outlining his injury: "Im (sic) responsible for putting myself out there by the way for people talking about the medicos."

The fierce competitor facet of his make-up, combined with the adrenaline of the match, compelled him to try to complete the match. That's what elite athletes do in combat sports. But there are times when senior people – medicos, coaches, officials – at football clubs need to make decisions in the best interests of the player, not the club. And Monday at MCG was one of those times.

Imagine if, having re-entered play with such severe internal damage, Petracca had been hit by Brayden Maynard, or copped another knee from Moore. One shudders at the potential further damage.

At three-quarter time, Richardson told Channel Seven: "It looks like ribs, he's pretty sore, we tried a couple of times with some support, we will have to wait for scans … my understanding is he is still here, down in the rooms, and he is OK, other than the fact he just couldn't get moving. He's pretty sore, so we will have to get it scanned."

Post-match, Goodwin said: "He's in hospital, just getting a scan at the moment, they think it might be some cracked ribs and we will give more information when we get it, but hopefully that is all … like anything with a broken or a cracked rib, you know you certainly get some pain relief and see how you can go on, that's the standard process, we are working through these type of injuries. It was pretty evident that he wasn't going to be able to play on, so we pulled it straight away at half time … once I get the information I guarantee I will pass it on."

Christian Petracca leaves the field in pain during Melbourne's loss to Collingwood in round 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

I realise in-match decisions are often made under great stress and duress. The King's Birthday game was a must-win one for the Demons, whose season was already stalling before Monday. The club was desperate for Petracca's availability after the Moore hit, and without him, lost another game, its fourth defeat from the past five matches.

Melbourne exposed Petracca to great danger on Monday. It was a bad look, and this was an observation made long before the public revelation of the extent of injuries. 


The awkward public defensiveness of the Demons continued in their media release the day after the match. "After returning to play, Petracca's pain increased at half-time and despite assessing relatively well, he was sent to hospital for further investigation as a precaution", part of its statement read.

The AFL's lawmakers have rightly cracked down on the way clubs must treat players who receive in-match knocks to the head.

And the AFL revealed to this column on Tuesday evening that officials had consulted Melbourne's medicos about their decision to allow Petracca back on the field.

"The AFL Chief Medical Officer has spoken to Melbourne's doctors in relation to their management of Christian Petracca yesterday. The AFL is comfortable with the processes Melbourne adopted," AFL spokesperson Jay Allen said.

Before the start of next season, installation of medical scanning machines at all the main AFL stadiums should be considered. Had Melbourne and Petracca had access to such a machine, which have been installed in most NFL venues, there is no way he would have re-entered play.

X: @barrettdamian