4 April 2024

Sorry, Corey, but sometimes clubs need to protect players from themselves

| Tim Gavel
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Harawira Naera with supporters in Melbourne following the Raiders win. Photo: Raiders.com.au.

Cory Harawira-Naera with supporters in 2022. Photo: Raiders.com.au.

When Corey Harawira-Naera suffered a seizure mid-game against the Rabbitohs in Round 13 last year, it was one of the more distressing images I have witnessed in 35 years of commentating.

It’s obviously not on the scale of Alex McKinnon and John Farragher, but it was a worrying sight nonetheless.

Harawira-Naera was diagnosed with an underlying heart condition and has been fitted with a defibrillator under his arm.

He hasn’t played since and the Raiders, following medical advice, have all but written off his chances of ever playing for the club again, such is the concern for his safety.

That caution has now extended to all training.

Corey Harawira-Naera at a media conference

Corey just before his 50th game for the Raiders in 2023. Photo: Raiders.com.au.

At 28 and with two years remaining on his contract, Harawira-Naera must be feeling frustrated with his predicament.

He is desperate to train harder and return to playing.

He has sought a second specialist opinion.

Given their obvious reluctance, even if the second specialist clears him, it would be difficult to imagine a return to the field for the Raiders.

Corey Harawira-Naera on social media following his on-field seizure. Photo: TikTok.

Corey Harawira-Naera on social media thanking both teams, medical staff and well-wishers following his on-field seizure. Photo: TikTok.

For the time being, his involvement with the Raiders appears to be limited to the Blue Shirt trainer role with the NSW Cup side.

For mine, the Raiders’ stance is understandable, although I have considerable sympathy for Cory.

With an element of risk involved, particularly to the player’s long-term health given the medical advice offered to the club, I’m not sure I would be putting him in danger even if he signs a deed of release accepting full responsibility for his own actions.

There is simply far more to it than a player wanting to play. There’s the emotional impact on the rest of the playing group and the coaching staff to consider if something happens to Harawira-Naera as a result of training or playing.

There have been similar cases in football where players have taken to the pitch with defibrillators – Manchester United’s Christian Eriksen and Luton Town’s Tom Lockyer are two that spring to mind.

Eriksen was cut by Inter Milan after Serie A banned him from playing after he had a defibrillator fitted. He found a home in the English Premier League, while Lockyer hasn’t returned after suffering his second cardiac arrest in December.

Canberra sport has been through this emotional roller coaster before with the Brumbies.

There was Pat McCabe’s return to the Brumbies after suffering a broken neck, and Julian Huxley suffered a seizure during a Super 14 game in 2008 before being diagnosed with a brain tumour. Huxley returned in 2010. Then there’s Christian Leali’ifano’s battle with cancer and Ita Vaea’s blood clot.

In each instance, there was a certain level of apprehension before they returned to playing.

It’s no different in the case of Corey Harawira-Naera. If there’s any danger, I’d be erring on the side of caution, protecting the player from themselves.

The Raiders take on the Parramatta Eels this Sunday, 7 April, at GIO Stadium at 6:15 pm. Tickets from Ticketek.

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