Former England scrum-half Matty Smith is said to be “in a bad way” after suffering a freak eye injury in St Helens’ 24-22 Super League defeat by Leeds.
Smith, who missed the start of the season with a broken leg, was forced out of the game at Headingley after just six minutes after catching a stray arm from his captain Jon Wilkin as they attempted a tackle.
Doctors were unable to stitch the wound and Smith was taken to hospital from where the club are anxiously awaiting news.
“Unfortunately he’s in a bad way,” Saints coach Justin Holbrook said. “It wasn’t just a cut, he sort of got his eyelid ripped open.
“Hopefully he’ll be alight but they couldn’t stitch it so he’s got to go to hospital and we’ll see what happens there.
“Hopefully his eye’s not damaged but it’s a lot worse than just a cut, that’s for sure.
“Everyone at our club is hoping he’ll be okay but I’m not sure.”
Wilkin suffered more agony when he was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Leeds forward Mitch Garbutt on 62 minutes and watched on from the sidelines as acting captain Kallum Watkins went over for the all-important try that helped the home side regain the lead.
Holbrook was without leading scorer Mark Percival through suspension and unable to play new signing Ben Barba after the club’s failure to over-turn a 12-match ban but he remained upbeat after a third defeat in five matches damaged their hopes of a top-four finish.
“I’m just as proud of the boys as I was last week when we got the win,” Holbrook said.
“It was really crucial to lose your half-back for pretty much the whole game. Obviously he’s our main organiser so it made it hard on us and, to nearly get away with that without your half would have been huge.
“I think the sin-binning was harsh and it was massive. It makes it hard, that’s for sure, when you are playing a man short for 10 minutes.
“But it shows the players are loving playing for each other. We just need to string some wins together.
“Full credit goes to Leeds, they had us under pressure a lot of that game, they are quality side.”
England internationals Watkins and Ryan Hall got the all-important late tries that enabled Leeds to come from 16-12 down, but the 2015 champions were hugely indebted to young guns Jack Walker and Jordan Lilley in helping them overcome the absence of seven senior players through injury and suspension.
Full-back Walker, just 17, produced an accomplished, man-of-the-match performance belying his tender years while Lilley, 21, proved a splendid replacement for suspended captain Danny McGuire on his first start of the season.
“He was good,” coach Brian McDermott said of Walker. “He took some challenging high balls and looks okay with the ball in his hands.
“It was a big game for him and his development will be better for it.
“We’ve had to overcome a little bit of adversity with bans and injuries but overall I’m very pleased. We were really challenged by a determined Saints.
“We got put on the back foot a couple of times, we needed to have some fight about us.”